When our puppy raisers are handed one of our puppies, they become responsible for training that dog for the first 12-18 months of his life. Puppy raisers teach the dogs the basic service dog cues and good house manners, as well as take the dogs out in public to gain as many experiences as possible. But what are these basic cues? For a service dog, the basics involve a little more than “sit” and “stay.”
Our puppy raisers are responsible for teaching their puppy 26 cues. We cover 10 of these cues in puppy class. The other 16 are detailed in the puppy manual that each puppy raiser receives, and raisers can always ask one of our trainers or veteran puppy raisers for help with a cue. We’re always happy to help!
Here are the 26 cues that form the foundation of every Susquehanna Service Dog:
All the way up
The dog puts all four paws on an object.
The dog walks 5-7 steps backward. Dogs that don’t know “back” will be limited in their placement. For example, a dog that doesn’t know “back” can’t open a door and therefore can’t be placed with someone in a wheelchair.
“Car” cues the dog to jump into the car. The dogs need to practice getting in and out of cars, vans, SUVs, trucks, etc., and they should be able to get in through any door, including the trunk in a van or SUV.
A good recall can save a dog’s life. Our dogs practice recalls inside and outside in many different situations and environments.
Depending on their placement, a dog may wear a comfort trainer. For example, all of our balance dogs wear comfort trainers to give their partners more control over the dog. We want to make it as easy as possible for our partners to dress their dog for work, so we train our dogs to put their snout through the comfort trainer and hold it there while their partner secures it.
The dog lies down and rolls their hip.
“Easy” cues the dog to take treats nicely. This is especially important if the dog is going to be placed with a child.
The dog untangles himself from the leash.
The dog potties on cue, on any surface on and off leash. Again, this is an important cue. We never know where a dog is going to be placed. A dog living in the city won’t necessarily have the luxury of a nice patch of grass, so they’ll need to be comfortable going on concrete or asphalt.
This is another cue that’s helpful for partners who have limited mobility. On cue, the dog puts his head through the harness and stands still while it’s buckled.
Go on through
The dog goes through an opening, turns around, and looks that the handler, without pulling to the end of the leash. “Go on through” can be used to go through doorways, maneuver through aisles or other tight spaces, or even simply have the dog turn around in an open space.
Go to bed
We have found that many of our partners use the “go to bed” cue. “Go to bed” means the dog goes to a designated bed or towel, lies down, and stays there until released. Our facility dogs perform this cue a lot when they’re not needed with the students. It also lets the dog know that it’s time to relax.
On the cue “heel,” the dog moves to stand on the handler’s left side. “Heel” takes a long time to train because there are so many steps to it. We train it using a box. The dog puts her front paws on the box and we click and treat her for moving her back feet around the box.
The dog walks into her crate and stays there, regardless of whether the door is open. The dog should be able to do this whether or not the handler is in the room. All of our dogs are crate trained, and while the dog is in the crate, she should be quiet and relaxed, even if there are other activities going on around her.
Every single dog that we place learns this behavior, and it’s a favorite among our partners. On cue, the dog rests her front legs in the handler’s lap. The dog should be able to do this from either side. Lap can be used to give pressure to relieve anxiety, or as a way to a dog to deliver an item to someone in a wheelchair. It’s also a great way for handlers to pay attention to their dog.
“Leave it” is a behavior that never ends. We are always working on it with our dogs. A good “leave it,” like a good recall, can save a dog’s life. We start training this cue by holding a piece of kibble in a closed fist and clicking the dog for looking away from the fist. Eventually, the dog should be able to walk by anything interesting on the floor, tables, chairs, etc. and ignore it. We encourage our puppy raisers to continue practicing all of the steps, even if their dog has a solid “leave it.” In Team Training, we show our partners how to work on “leave it” from the very beginning steps, and it’s always easier to have a dog that remembers it.
The dog begins to walk next to her handler.
At Susquehanna Service Dogs, the dog’s name is a rewardable cue. Whenever our puppy raisers say their dog’s name, the dog should look at them and they should be rewarded for it. This is why we don’t train a “look at me” type cue. The dog’s name is the cue to look at their handler.
“Off” should only be used if a dog has put their paws on something they’re allowed to be on. For example, if you invite them up on the couch and now you want them back on the floor, you would say “off.” You could also use it to ask your dog to leave your lap. “Off” should not be used if the dog is doing something they shouldn’t be doing. For example, if they put their paws up on the counter. In that case, you would simply take their collar and guide them off the counter without a cue.
“Okay” is the word that releases a dog from a behavior. For example, we use it to tell a dog they can come out of their crate, and we use it to release a dog to eat.
The dog puts their paw in your hand. This can be a useful cue for nail clipping and grooming.
“Side” is the opposite of “heel.” The dog moves to stand next to their handler on the right side. We teach it the same way we teach “heel.”
“Sit” is probably one of the most basic cues. It’s also one of the easiest cues to forget to practice once a dog learns it. However, it’s important to continue practicing solid sits so that the dog actually does a “sit” rather than sliding right into a “down.”
“Stay” tells the dog to remain exactly where they are. The dog should be able to perform this behavior in a sit, down, and stand. There are two types of stays. One is a cued “stay” where the dog stays alert to his handler. The other is a relaxed stay that may or may not have been cued. The handler is busy doing something else, and the dog just relaxes in a down and maybe even falls asleep.
The dog stands with no movement. The dog shouldn’t stand and then sit, or stand and move around. To get a solid stand, delay the click after giving the cue. The dog will most likely stay still until they hear the click. Then simply delay the click longer each time so you’re actually clicking for the standing and waiting in that position.
The dog goes under an object, such as a bench, table, or chair. Even big dogs can fit until low benches and chairs. “Under” gets the dog out of the way of other people that may be passing by. It keeps people from tripping over the dog, and it protects the dog from being stepped on.
The dog puts two paws on an object. It can be hard for a dog to distinguish between “up” and “all the way up,” so it may be helpful to practice “up” against a wall and just have the dog put their feet against the wall.
Visit is another favorite of our partners. Every single one of our dogs learns this behavior. On cue, the dog puts her head in the handler’s lap or hand.
When our dogs enter advanced training already knowing all of these cues, they can jump right into the more advanced cues they’ll need to assist their future partners.