• Raychel Hill BSc (Hons)

The word 'cue' VS 'command'

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

If you have met me you will notice that all the things we teach our dogs are called “cues” rather than a "commands". This might sound insignificant HOWEVER the words we use shape our perception and this has become more apparent to me in my current studies (a Masters in Anthrozoology).


Animal training was approached with a very different mindset than we use today. Humans had dominion over all other species and could use them for sport, assistance and entertainment. The animals rarely had choice in their involvement- often it being obey or face the consequences. And there were consequences. Imagine lion taming, elephant crushing etc, things that used to be justified by mans domination and control as back then (100 or so years ago) we didn’t recognise non-human animals as sentient beings and having their own thoughts.


Luckily we have evolved since then!!!


The idea of using whips, chains and beatings on most species would be seen as morally unethical at least to most people. And when we teach our dogs, we focus on teaching them what we want them to do and managing the environment to ensure they are successful rather than looking for opportunities to correct them.


Our animals are working with us because they want to engage with us- not because they are afraid of us. No dog should fear their human companion!


Dog 'training' has been documented as early as 120 BC however only started gaining traction in the 1950s with trainers like Saunders, dogs were there to 'obey' and not too dissimilar to the 1950 housewife!


Although our methods have evolved (for most people) - helped along with more scientific research into the effects of punishment in training- for example Church (1963), Hiby et al (2004), Schilder and van der Borg (2004), Arhant et al (2010), Rooney and Cowan (2011), Deldalle and Gaunet (2014), Pryor (2019), (I could go on forever🤣) - we still use the language from this outdated approach and a common term I still hear a lot is COMMAND which is defined as "give an authoritative or peremptory order". Now, is that something we want to associate with our relationships with our furry companions?


I find myself thinking that we already control so much in our dogs' lives, when they go out, when they are fed- do we need to have control over everything? If so, what does that say about us as humans and our personal relationships?

When I work with my dogs, they obviously have no need to fear me and I respect they have the choice to just look at me like I'm crazy if they want to and if I'm not motivating enough- like I would if my boss asked me to come into work for no pay!


Like, when we 'tell' our dogs to do something we are implying that they do not have their own thoughts and HAVE to obey us- but when we 'ask' our dog we are respecting the right for them to say not right now- this in itself reduces frustration or both sides! I can ASK Sonny to come back to me, but if he is engrossed in a scent I have to practice a bit of patience and wait until his nose comes up (he is on a long line for his safety until this improves) similarly if you walked into a room and wanted to ask a question to someone that was on the phone- you would have to wait until they were done- it would be impolite to interrupt them and it would be unethical to cause physical pain to just get their attention.


I teach all animals that I work with to engage with me because I am fun, (not scary!!) to build a bond with them and to recognise them as another sentient individual. This is also similar to the way that I also I work with other people- with respect, dignity and support.



(Sonny's naked down stay! )




3,430 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All