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"Clicking" With Cues: A Powerful Tool in Agility Handling

Here's something people often don't get, and not just in agility training: cues—the signals you give your dog to tell it what to do—can be clicks. If your cue tells the dog to do something it understands, and something with a guaranteed positive outcome or reinforcer as a result, it becomes a potential reinforcer in itself. And you can use it to shape behavior.

Honor and the Honor Roll

We have an Honor Roll on our current website. There are hundreds of dogs on the list, plus some cats, rabbits, and birds. There are numerous perfect obedience scores of 200; lots of obedience degrees, agility titles, and search and rescue and disaster dog achievements (a clicker-trained FEMA dog searched the Pentagon on 9/11). And yes, there are OTCh dogs too. Take a look.

The Perils of Popping

What happens when you click is incredibly important, but what happens after you click and BEFORE you reward is also incredibly important. If I click a dog for a sit, and as I fumble and reach for the treat, he also sniffs the ground, turns his head, and sneezes before I give him the treat. What I actually rewarded is the entire behavior chain. Next time I ask for sit, I may also get a sniff, head turn, and a sneeze.

Training Paired Cues: "Bark/Be Quiet"

At ClickerExpo last season, Karen Pryor talked about paired or "opposite" cues, and gave the "bark/be quiet" pair as an example. This is an easy pair to train as a demonstration if you happen to have a very barky dog handy. The concept of teaching cues in pairs is new to many dog trainers, although a familiar tool to some marine mammal trainers.

Reinforcing Cues from a Distance

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.

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