Monthly Archives: November 2011

Adding the Cue

Once your dog begins to offer a behavior regularly, you can put it on cue. A cue is the word you say to tell your dog, “now’s a good time to do that behavior, because it might pay off.” Think of it as a green light for the behavior.

To put a behavior on cue, we need to teach the dog that the word and behavior are connected.

In traditional compulsive training, cues are taught right from the start. The trainer tells the dog what to do (for example, “sit”), and when the dog doesn’t respond the trainer physically places the dog in that position. Over many repetitions, the dog learns to put his rear end on the ground when he hears “sit” to avoid being pushed into that position.

In clicker training, we first teach the dog what we want him to do.

Remember, dogs don’t understand English. They learn what words mean by associating the word with whatever action is most closely paired with it over many repetitions. This means that if your dog is standing in front of you, staring at you, and you keep telling him to “sit,” he’s very likely to think that the word “sit” means “stand in front of my owner and look at them.” Not the association we want them to make!

Before you begin to add the cue, wait until your dog is offering the new behavior reliably enough that you can predict when he’s going to do it. Perhaps you’ve been capturing his bow every morning when he stretches, and now every time he walks up to you he bows in the hope that you’ll click and give him a treat.

When you would bet $50 that the dog is going to bow within the next 2-3 seconds, say your cue. Let’s say that you want to teach your dog to bow when you ask, “who’s your queen?” Say “queen” right before you think the dog is going to bow. When he bows, click and treat. Repeat this 10 times or so. Each time you think he’s about to bow, say “queen,” then click and treat. After 10 bows, stop talking. He’ll probably bow again. Don’t click this one. He may bow more, or try bowing deeper. Wait until he stops bowing. As soon as there’s a pause, say “queen” and click the next bow that happens after this.

At this stage, we’re teaching the dog an improvement on his bowing behavior. He’s learned that sometimes when he bows he’s going to get a snack. Now, we’re explaining a new rule to him. We’re showing him that he will only get a snack for bowing if he does so when he hears the word “queen” first. “Queen” has become a green light for bowing. It tells him, “now would be a good time to try that bowing trick.”

This is how to get behaviors on cue. If you want a non-verbal cue for a behavior, such as a hand signal or body cue, just insert that movement in place of the word in the above example (for instance, you may decide you want to teach your dog to bow when you bow, so the two of you can acknowledge an appreciative audience together). Expect this process to take 40-100 repetitions with most dogs.

In future posts, we’ll talk about other ways to get behavior and some common training pitfalls. In the meantime, please comment below with your training questions, stories, or brags. We look forward to hearing from you!

Capturing: Lazy Training at its Best

Capturing is one of the easiest ways to teach your dog a new behavior, and it’s perfect for lazy trainers! Perhaps this is why it’s my favorite method of training the basics, such as attention, sit, and lie down.

To capture a behavior, carry the clicker around the house with you. You can slide it in a pocket, put it on a lanyard around your neck, or use a string to make a clicker bracelet. Just make sure you’ve got it handy. Any time your dog does something you like, click the clicker and give your dog a reward. Rewards can be carried with you (perhaps by throwing some kibble in your pocket), kept handy in common areas of the house (a can of easy cheese lives on top of my bookshelf), or stashed ahead of time in strategic locations (hide the tennis ball in a flower pot when the dog’s not looking).

Capture as many behaviors as you can throughout the day! Remember, the clicker tells your dog he’s doing something right, so click anything and everything you like.

If your puppy dances into the room chewing on his toy and making it squeak, click and play with him! If your hyper adolescent dog lies down on his dog bed quietly instead of pacing around, click and give him a soothing massage. Does your dog do something cute that would make a wonderful trick? Click it and hand him a treat! This is a great way to teach tricks like “take a bow” (my dogs bow when I ask “Who’s your queen?”) or “say you’re sorry” (where the dog puts his head on his paws). Be generous, and click your dog for all the wonderful things he does throughout the day!

In the beginning stages of capturing, dogs often don’t know what they’re being clicked for. That’s okay! This is a normal part of the learning process. At some point, the light bulb will go off. The dog will start to offer the behaviors that have been clicked in the past, often somewhat tentatively as if asking, “is this right?” Yes! Excellent! Make sure you make a big deal over this, so he knows he’s on the right track.

Here’s a video of Dobby learning to bow. At the time of this video, he’d been clicked for bowing for about a month, and was starting to offer bows as a way to earn a treat. Note how when I accidentally click him for lying down, he begins offering downs instead.

Once your dog begins to offer a behavior regularly, you can put it on cue. We’ll talk about how to do this in future posts. In the meantime, have you ever tried to capture any behaviors? If so, what behaviors have you captured with your dog?

[Mostly] Wordless Wednesday

It’s impossible to watch Shalise’s German Shorthaired Pointer, Tori, fly around an agility course without smiling. What are your dog’s favorite activities?