Does your dog KNOW what the word “sit” means? Or is he guessing?
Does your dog go through all the behaviors he knows when you ask him for something?
Sometimes, when you ask your dog to do something, does he look at you like you’re speaking a foreign language?
All of those things are related to cues — the way you ask a dog to do something. We’ve talked a lot about cues here because they’re so important. What makes a good cue; a post with video on how to use cues to ask your dog to do something for you; how cues get your dog to do what you ask; and the basics of cues.
To illustrate what it looks like when a dog is learning how to differentiate between cues — when they’re really thinking about what you’re saying and actually listening — here’s a video I shot in 2011 with a very young puppy learning the difference between “kennel” and “mat.”
That pup is Sweet Baby Caysun, one of the service puppies in training that has graced us with her presence. She’s now a working girl — working as a diabetic alert dog.
You’ll notice that Caysun’s just a pup when I’m teaching her to distinguish between the cues. That’s the beauty of clicker training — even very young dogs can learn, and very quickly!
Here’s what you need to know:
- I’d taught the two behaviors separately and put them both on cue.
- The dog knew both “kennel” and “mat” behaviors by themselves. I could say the word — just once — and Caysun could make the correct choice if just the mat or just the kennel was available.
- I was confident that the dog had a very good chance of learning to listen to the words coming out of my mouth.
How to find out if your dog is guessing.
It’s easy to find out if your dog is guessing. Start with two very well known behaviors. Make sure you only ask once for the behavior. (Not: “sit, sit, sit, SIT!”) Alternate between the two known cues. Click and treat every correct response. Ignore any incorrect responses.
Annika Halvari says
I have a service dog, a golden, and he is very good but this guessing is a problem. There are two or three tasks where he has to go to a different part of the house (retrieve the phone, pull an alarm). I have tried all kinds of combinations or training….concentrating on one till he has it perfect than add the other….the problem is he just gets so happy and excited he runs back and forth and when I have asked for the phone he has brought me a shoe, a ball (things that make no sense). Within 2 minutes he can be just running in circles, so I know it is not training for too long….and time of day seems to make no difference. I wonder if you have any suggestions. I try to play with him as much as I can but due to my physical limitations I don’t think I ever really tucker him out. And if I try training after a play session when he has worked out some energy the same problems occur. Any ideas. I need to teach in a few new tasks in the coming months and I am afraid I will just be muddling in further.