ClickerSolutions Training Treasures

How to Add the Cue

One of the myths revolving around clicker training is that we go around with a myriad of uncued behaviors for ages and ages. If I'm shaping an incredibly precise behavior, that might be true, but most people are looking for very simple behaviors. With my pet-owner clients, I have them start adding the cue as soon as the behavior is being freely offered -- at the point that the dog can demonstrate that he *knows* what's being clicked. In many cases, that happens the first day!

Where I might be different from other trainers is in *how* I add the cue.

When you train your dog, you want to him to learn that a particular stimulus is a cue for a behavior. In the beginning that cue is just one stimulus in a world of stimuli. Those stimuli -- including your cue --- are largely irrelevant.

Then as behaviors are performed and reinforced, some stimuli begin to stand out. These are called salient stimuli. When certain stimuli stand out above all others and thus cue the behavior, those stimuli are called discriminative stimuli. Your goal is to have a single discriminative stimulus.

Before a cue can be used to induce a behavior, the dog must associate the cue with the behavior. So first I say the cue *as* the dog is doing the behavior. I'll do this for 30+ reps. Then I'll say the cue just as the dog *begins* to do the behavior. I'll do that for another 30+ reps. Then I'll say the cue just before the dog does the behavior (but only when he's about to offer the behavior) for another 30+ reps. Only then, after the dog has heard the cue associated with the behavior for a minimum of 90 reps will I attempt to induce the behavior using the cue.

Of course, this doesn't even begin to cover how to teach your dog that the cue is the ONLY discriminative stimulus. But that's another story and will be told another time.

Melissa Alexander
Positive Paws Canine Resource Center
Seattle, WA
copyright 1999 Melissa C. Alexander


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