Q: I'm training my dog, an English springer spaniel, to do signals for Utility obedience competition. My dog understands what the sit signal is. When I am close he sits up like a rocket, as I get further he sometimes hesitates, and if too far, doesn't do it at all. If I go back, again he sits up like a rocket. However, when I go just a bit further, he sits on the signal but moves forward a bit. I have used things to prevent him from moving forward but they only temporarily fix the problem. I'm looking for some guidance on building a sit signal so my dog eventually understands that I can give the signal when I'm 20 feet away from him. I'm not in a hurry and am willing to build; just not sure I'm going about it right.
Cues and Cueing
When we first start out clicker training, we tend to get very excited about the fact that we can teach the dog a new behavior in just a few clicks. Suddenly we have a dog that sits, does a belly flop down, a spin, a paw wave, and six other things-but all at once. You're hoping for a sit/stay, and the dog is running through his entire repertoire trying to find something you'll click.
Train two behaviors at once? Teach two cues simultaneously? How? Why? Teaching certain cues in pairs can speed up the learning process, as well as teaching a dog a concept that it can apply to new learning.
If the learning is sufficiently shaped and reinforced to the best it can be, and reliability is achieved at this level; and if, then, this standard is attached to a new "performance cue", then there is no reason for the dog to give a reduced quality or reliability in show circumstances unless the stress level has gone beyond the dog's self management. Even then asking the dog for a strong, favourite behavior can reduce the stress significantly.
The technical name for a cue is a discriminative stimulus.
Here is how you can tell if you have built a truly powerful cue which will always work for you and your dog.