In my Family Dog Manners classes, when it’s time to teach our dogs to come when called, I ask all of my students to select a NEW cue for “come”. Why? Often times, we dog parents have unintentionally “poisoned” the word come. We have made it a dirty word to our dogs by using it when we’re about to do something to our dog that they find unpleasant. Many of us have used the word “come” when we were about to give our dog a bath, take them to the vet, trim their nails,make them leave the dog park….anything they didn’t want to do. In other words, our dogs do not associate “come” with happy things and they may very well AVOID us when we use it!

Many cues can become poisoned when used in association with unpleasant things. A poisoned cue occurs when a dog associates unpleasant things with a cue or any other word. Have you ever used your dog’s name to scold them?

Usually, there are no major consequences for doing so, other than our dogs ignoring or avoiding us. However, if you do this often enough, you may end up with a reaction like this video::


So, what should this family do? First off, they are going to have to change their dog’s name, or someone is going to get hurt! The second thing they’ll have to do is NEVER EVER EVER use their dog’s new name in a negative manner again.This situation can quickly escalate into a dangerous situation for the dog and family, and we do not want that to happen. This family will likely also have to be very aware of how they approach their dog and may have to do some desensitization and counter-conditioning work with their dog.

How can you prevent something like this from happening with you and your dog?

Dogs are very sensitive to our tone of voice and body language. When you’re interacting with your dog, be sure to always use happy tones. If you discover that your dog has made a mess or done something you think is bad, do not scold them or advance on them in a threatening manner, even if you catch them in the act.  Take the opportunity to show them an appropriate behavior. Just telling your dog “No” or “don’t” is not enough information – tell them what TO do instead of what NOT TO do and you’ll both be much happier!

How to apply this:

We’ll using chewing as an example. Chewing is a natural behavior and can be a healthy outlet for your dog’s energy and can be good for their dental health, but we don’t want them chewing on the furniture!

  1. Set your dog up for success by limiting their access to things (shoes, clothing, etc) that you don’t want chewed up. Put these items away if possible. You should also create an environment that will prevent your dog from chewing by keeping them in a crate or small room when you can’t be around to watch them, especially if they are a puppy,new to your home, or a problem chewer.
  2. Make sure you dog has access to plenty of appropriate dog chews that they enjoy. There are a lot of things to choose from out there! Just be sure they’re good for your dog and are not something they accidentally ingest if that will be harmful. I suggest raw bones and tell all my clients to avoid cooked/smoked bones and rawhide.
  3. If you catch your dog chewing something inappropriate, don’t scold them. Get their attention off the object and replace it with an appropriate object. This way you’re not just asking them to stop a natural behavior, you’re showing them where that natural behavior is okay to do!