Editor's note: Debi Davis is an innovative, skilled clicker trainer, who writes well to boot. Whenever one of her keen observations comes our way, we're delighted—and hurry to share it with visitors to clickertraining.com. Recently, Debi wrote to tell us a story about her service Border collie, Finn. As with all of Debi's stories, it contains an insight: clicker training provides true learning, and behaviors taught through it are not forgotten. Therefore, we asked Emma Parsons, KPCT's training director and author of Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog, to add her comments on the light that Debi's piece sheds on the durability of clicker trained cues.
Cues and Cueing
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.
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.
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.