ClickerSolutions Training Treasures

Adding the Cue

I do have a question about when to give cues. From what I understood (and what is posted in Karen Pryor's 15 Rules for Getting Started...), the behavior is shaped first, and then only when the dog offers that behavior does the cue get added. Then there is the fine article on the Keeper list by Grace about teaching the "Mat" exercise ("go to your mat") where the owner gives the cue before the behavior is even shaped. Are both of these methods commonly used, or do most do it the way Karen Pryor suggests?

If I look at you and say, "Flubbort!", what would you do? Would you walk over to the couch and sit down? The word wouldn't mean anything to you, so you'd have a pretty hard time responding to my request, right?

When we teach any behavior, we are usually only muddying up the works if we attach words to the process of learning a behavior. The dog is trying to concentrate on problem solving, on finding out what he needs to do to get you to click and treat him. If we inject supurflous words, like "go to your mat" before the dog has a clue about how to do the behavior, are we not adding a totally useless thing?

For the dog who has learned to problem solve, the process of finding out what needs to be done to get us to click is one that demands concentration. We often hear "let the click speak". We hear this because anything we add in the way of verbiage while the dog is actively problem solving is a distractor!

So, we instead allow the CLICK to speak for us, and we incrementally shape the behavior.

In the case of teaching a dog to go to a mat (something all my service dogs do), there is absolutely no advantage to adding a cue word before the dog knows the behavior.

I teach "go to the mat" very incrementally, pure shaping. I drop the mat, dog sniffs or turns head toward it, I c/t. I continue rapid reinforcement for every body movement closer and closer to the mat. I'm TALKING to the dogs through the click. Sort of like the old "hot and cold" game, where someone tells you to find a present hidden in the house, and as you move around the house, trying to find it, the person tells you "cold----cold---warmer----warmer yet----HOT!"

Once the dog realizes the game is to do some kind of interaction with the mat, I then begin withholding the click for just a sniff, a head turn. I up the criteria. By now the dog has had several rapid reinforcements, and he is really engaged in the game. He wants to do more. He is motivated. He steps on the mat. C/T!

I then reinforce quickly several times, until he's running to the mat each time to touch it. Then I withhold the click a few seconds, until the dog offers something more, usually moving further on to the mat.

Incrementally, I continue to shape full body position on the mat, then the down position, never saying a word, just clicking at what the dog offers.

Once the dog is running over to the mat from many positions in the room, I begin to add the "cue" word just before the click.

Then we take the show on the road, practicing the mat in many evironments, gradually adding distractions.

I've never had a need to add a cue word before the dog understood the behavior, and for the life of me, I can't think of a single reason why it would ever be needed. The clicker just has such scalpel-like accuracy.

But you're SOOOOO right that it's very hard to stop doing this, and I struggle with it all the time. To help myself, I often videotape training sessions, just to see when I'm inadvertently overcueing. I catch myself way too often! <G>

Debi Davis
Tuscon, AZ
copyright 1999 Debi Davis


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