You read last month’s article and are now revved up about cues for your dog. Now that you understand what a cue is, what makes a good cue, and how exactly to get your dog’s behavior on cue, you’re excited to move onto the next steps: cleaning up your cues and maybe even transferring cues. We’re happy to bring you our sixth article on the nuts and bolts of dog training so you can have a well-behaved dog. This month’s article picks up where we left off and you’ll learn how to clean up your current cues and also a nifty cool skill called “transferring a cue.”
Cleaning Up Your Cues
You learned from last month’s article that a good cue is simple and consistent. You know that if you’re saying something and moving at the same time, that your cue isn’t clean – it’s what’s called a double cue. The truth is that your dog probably pays attention to just one of those cues anyway and it’s probably the visual one.
It’s really simple to fix a double cue: simply try each cue separately and see which one the dog responds to. For instance, if you lean forward when you say the word “sit,” try keeping your back straight and saying “sit,” with no other movement. Did your dog sit? Now, do just the other part of the cue (the leaning). Lean forward and say nothing. Did your dog sit? Most dogs notice our body movements more than they pay attention to our words and are more likely to respond to just our movements.
If your dog sat when you leaned forward, you don’t need to say the word sit! You’ve instantly cleaned up your cueing, just like that! If your dog sat when you said the word (without leaning forward), you don’t need to move when you ask your dog to sit! Again, instant cue cleanup!
Another big challenge for people is to ask the dog to do something just once. It’s not “sit, sit, sit.” It’s just: “Sit.” And wait. Wait for the dog to do the action. If he does – yay, click and treat! If he doesn’t – just hold still. Wait. Wait some more. If the dog doesn’t do the behavior, take a step or two away from the dog (reset the training session), get your dog’s attention, and start again. In the end, you want the dog to understand that you’ll ask him once, and then it’s up to him as to whether he earns a click or not.
This frightens some people. They (incorrectly) think “I must make my dog obey! If I let him get away with not sitting, he’ll think he doesn’t have to listen!” Not at all! Think of it this way: if your dog sees a squirrel run across the lawn, he’s got to act immediately if he wants a chance at catching that squirrel. That squirrel isn’t going to parade back and forth several times saying “Hey dog, didn’t you see me the first time? Here I am! Do you want to catch me? Do you want to catch me? Do you want to catch me?” The dog learns quickly: to catch the squirrel, he can’t hesitate; time is of the essence! The dog won’t be so slow the next time, that’s for sure!
This is exactly what you’re teaching your dog when you ask once. If the dog does it, he “caught the squirrel!” (earned his click and treat). If he doesn’t do it, “too bad, squirrel got away that time” (doesn’t earn the click and treat). Giving the cue just once leads to faster, more accurate responses by your dog!
Work on cleaning your cues up this month. First, find out which parts of your current cues are important to your dog. Then, give only that part of the cue – and give it only once. Then wait for the response. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you see improvement!
As a result of your cleaner cues, you may decide you don’t like the cue that your dog actually responds to. In the sit example earlier, for instance, let’s assume that the dog has really been paying attention to your leaning in, not to the word sit. But you prefer that the dog respond to just the word – how to fix that problem?
That’s where transferring a cue comes in handy.
Transferring a cue simply means teaching the dog to respond the same way to a new cue (a new way of asking for the behavior). Transferring a cue is super simple: give the new cue first, then give the old cue. In our sit example, you’d say the word sit, then lean forward. It’s crucial that the cues are sequential, not simultaneous. It looks like this:
New cue (“SIT”) –> Old cue (lean forward) –> Click and treat for correct response.
Repeat that sequence several times, begin to pause a moment after giving the new cue, then give the old cue. Eventually, the dog will begin to understand that the new cue predicts that the old cue will be given and he’ll take a “shortcut” and do the behavior after you give the first cue (the new cue). Click and treat immediately when you see the dog begin to recognize this!
Why Transfer a Cue
As mentioned above, you may want to transfer a cue after you’ve cleaned up your cues and have found that the cue your dog notices isn’t necessarily the cue you want to give. Another reason to transfer a cue is if different people use different cues for the same behavior. For instance, if some people in your family say “Come,” other say “C’mere,” and yet others say “C’mon” – all to get the dog to come to them – you definitely want to transfer the cue to just one simple, clear, standard cue! To do that, first have a family meeting to determine exactly which word will be the new universal “come to me” word. Then, follow the simple formula above: new cue –> old cue –> click and treat.
Cues are your dog’s vocabulary. It’s important to ensure that the cues are clean, clear, and consistent between family members. Using this article, you now know what it takes to clean up your dog’s cues which will, in turn, clean up the behavior, too!