Can I change all of my dog’s verbal cues into Harry Potter spells instead???

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Can I change all of my dog’s verbal cues into Harry Potter spells instead???

Can I change all of my dog’s verbal cues into Harry Potter spells instead???

The title of this post was a genuine question asked by one of my dog parents (he kindly gave his permission for me to tell you all about it here!)

The question was asked with a little embarrassment but luckily I was able to reassure Tom that not only was it possible to change his “play dead” verbal cue to “Avada Kedavra!” (that’s the killing curse for any non-Harry Potter fans) but that he was not the first person to ask!


Dogs actually find it really easy to learn new verbal cues for a behavior that they already know.

Tom’s reason for changing his dog’s cues was simply to look like a wizard whenever he asked his dog to do something in pubic (fair enough!). Harry-Potter fans aside though, teaching your dog a new verbal cue for an already learnt behavior has some really handy uses. Here are a few examples:



1. If you have accidentally “poisoned” your initial cue. For example, instead of just saying “sit” once and then waiting for your dog to perform the action, saying “sit, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit!”. In this situation often this cue has become less meaningful for your dog and so it might be worth re-teaching with a new cue word

2. If your dog had a negative experience whilst you cued the behavior. As an example, I worked with a dog that had been asked to “stay” by her owner just at the precise time that a shelf collapsed, landing on her tail (she was ok physically luckily but understandably worried about being asked to “stay”). In these instances I would suggest a break from asking for that behavior for a few weeks before teaching with a new cue

3. For teaching an indicator behavior, for example in scent work. A lot of us have seen the awesome drug detection dogs on TV that sit down or bark to indicate that they have found a substance. One way of teaching this indicator behavior is by introducing a new cue. At first they are rewarded by just finding the correct scent in an area, then the handler will ask for a sit before rewarding and very soon the dog gets the idea to sit once they have detected the scent in order to receive their reward!

So how do we teach a new verbal cue to our dogs?

New Cue > Old Cue > Marker Word > Reward

So…… if I wanted to change “sit” to “plonk” for my dog Leo (yes, I may be speaking from experience) this is what I would do:

“Leo, Plonk” (new cue) > {short pause} > “Sit” (old cue) > “Yes!” (marker word) > Treat/Toy (reward)



Do this a few times and then gradually increase the length of the pause. See if your dog offers the correct behavior (a “sit”). If they do, reward immediately without needing to say the old cue. If not, just practice the above for a little longer /a few more sessions.

Don’t forget, dogs aren’t great at generalising! You may need to repeat the above in new situations (places with distractions like the park or training class) and remember to keep it nice and fun!

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