Training Patterns & Response to Cues
I love meeting folks who’ve taught their dog a variety of skills and then enjoy showing off the things their dog has learned. Sometimes, however, dogs may enthusiastically offer up a specific chain of behaviors they’ve learned, all in a row, and often before the owner has given the cue to perform each individual behavior.
This performance “bundling” results when you consistently give cues in the same order every time. Through repetition, many dogs memorize that pattern and begin to automatically offer that same sequence of behaviors even when you haven’t asked them to do all those behaviors.
For example, let’s say you always give the cues SIT, DOWN, and ROLL OVER in that same order, every time you train. Your dog will likely begin to offer that entire sequence of behaviors when you just give the cue to SIT. In other words, he doesn’t wait to hear your next instruction but just moves straight from the SIT into a DOWN and then into a ROLL OVER.
If you’re charmed by their enthusiastic responses, you may reward those performances with praise, laughter, and/or treats, and thus the dog is likely to do the same thing again in the future.
If you’d like to create more precise responses to each individual cue, it’s important to:
Teach each individual behavior separately and well
Add a cue for the new behavior when the dog is offering it reliably and with ease
Continue to reward each correct response to a specific cue until the behavior is strong
Stop rewarding the dog if he offers the behavior when you haven’t given the cue
Practice giving the different cues for behaviors he’s learned in varying orders
A recent puppy visitor came to me already having a nice and consistent response to the SIT cue. While he was here, I taught him down, settle (go and lie down on a mat), leave it, and okay (a signal that ends a behavior so he can get up and move).
We practiced each behavior every day, especially down. So it was no surprise when I noticed him wanting to slide from a sit into a down without me actually giving the DOWN cue. Additionally, if his mat was within sight, he’d automatically want to go to it to settle, even if I didn’t give the verbal SETTLE cue. (FYI, the mere presence of the mat is an environmental cue for the settle behavior in the early stages of training.)
In this video, you’ll see how he offers a down a couple of times and settle once without me asking for it. My response it to simply ignore those off-cue offerings (as mentioned in step #4 above), but it also shows me where further training and polishing are needed.
Once a dog has been introduced to a number of new skills, it’s important to practice giving each cue in random order, rewarding every correct response in the early stages of training. Here are some examples of sequences we practiced:
· Sit, okay, leave it, down, okay
· Leave it, down, sit, okay, settle, okay, sit
· Settle, okay, leave it, down, okay, sit, okay
Bottom line, if you want your dog to be truly attentive to your cues and accurate in his responses, keep these tips in mind.
Virginia Dare is a dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers remote consultations anywhere in the US for matchmaking services, pre- and post-puppy arrival counseling, and other behavior topics for adult dogs. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120
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