As humans, we love to use a snap of our fingers to punctuate a statement. We may say “Hey, do this right now” *snap* or “Hey! Don’t do that” *snap*. Although it may be a fine way to emphasize statements when speaking to humans, the snap of the fingers rarely translates into useful information for an animal.
I like to call a finger snap “The Universal Cue”, not because it works as a cue for everything, but because people use it as a cue for everything! Although the snap of your fingers may function as a distraction to your pet (the first few times….), it very rarely, if ever, functions as a usable cue.
Quite often, I witness owners who snap their fingers at their animal as a way to give a cue, but no cue actually follows. This will be repeated multiple times throughout a training session, but each time, the snap is given for a different reason. Usually it goes something like this; “Fergus *snap*, FerGUS*snap* *snap*, FERGUS! *snap*snap*snap*. Poor Fergus doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do so he goes through a variety of behaviors including coming when called, nosing his mom, sitting, and then eventually laying down. But what exactly was that snap supposed to mean?
A snap of the fingers is not a magical universal remote control for training. Just like you can’t press the button for channel 3 and hope to get channel 8, you can’t snap your fingers and expect your dog to know that you want him to sit instead of lie down. Dogs need clear cues in order to understand what us “crazy button pushing humans” expect of them. When we give confusing signals, they give us confused behaviors.
Clarity of cues is an important skill that allows us to communicate effectively with our animals. When we give a cue, it should be specific to the behavior we’re asking for. If I ask for sit, I want my dog to sit. If I ask him to jump, I want him to jump. I would never ask my dog to sit and expect him to jump or vice versa. If I cue for one behavior, but accept any behavior, my dog would quickly become confused as to what that cue meant. This leads to more confusion and frustration (for everyone) down the line and usually ends in a statement something like this; “My dog just won’t do what he’s told”. Meanwhile your poor dog is thinking “My human just won’t tell me what he wants me to do”. So my friends, the snap isn’t magical and it surely isn’t very useful in training. Not only does it not give adequate information, it gives confusing information (not to mention tired fingers!). When you feel the need to use this “universal cue”, ask yourself, “what do I want my pet to do” and instead of giving him a *snap*, give him a cue. Your pet, and your fingers, will thank you.