Thursday, May 12, 2011

Do you know the subtle cues you are giving your dogs?

The photo of Finnegan looking at me was taken while I was walking off leash. One minute the dog was running with the other dogs, the next minute he was glued to my side in a near perfect heel.  What I did to get my dog to me at heel was totally unintentional.  Can you guess what  it may have been?
I will give you a moment to think it over.

Lets go on to  Beck for a second.  Last weekend Beck met my parents for the first time.  They both put him through his paces.
"Sit." Sure no problem.
"Paw".  Nope I am saving that for when he is a little older and wiser. Although I have taught him to paw an object like the Easy Button.  Give paw can be a really obnoxious default behavior, so I often stay away from it with immature dogs.
"Beck lay down".  Nothing. They both then  pointed  to the ground, then dropped their hand all the way to the ground.  I stopped them before they lured him with a cookie.
They both gave me the I thought you were a dog trainer look.  Dropping their hand  to the ground got Beck's nose on their hand. They told him to hand target!

As a trainer, I should hope I have learned and evolved over time. Beck's down has been shaped.  I am thinking ahead to agility and being able to send him to the table and having him do a flying down stay.  Beck's cue for down is the cue  "down" said while looking at he ground. Parents were duly impressed I think.  With my new dog I am trying really hard to stay out of "Lurer's Anonymous." When we teach with lures and don't fade them  straight away, it is a hard fix. So much easier to teach it right from  the get go. We don't want to inadvertently teach our dogs to be "relurant" That is a sniglet I invented by the way. It means reliant on a lure.

When I taught Finney to lay down, it took me months of frustration. Dog would lay down fine at home and often it took quite a while to get a down in public.  I had it all wrong. At home I was saying "Finney, ready Down." In public, it turns out I was skipping the "ready" and he thought it was one big game of Nancy says. No "ready", no down for my Collie.  He doesn't like to be  wrong, and will choose a default watch me over taking risks.  Lesson learned for me.

I catch people in class giving subtle cues all the time without realizing it. Think your dog knows sit? Try asking while sitting down, or turned around, or from across a room using no hand gestures. Think your dog is downing just from your verbal cue?. Try your hands at your side, your eyes straight ahead and no bending at the waist.  Can you tell your dog to stay and pick something up off the floor, or will your dog think that is a cue for "come"?  I could go on, and I am sure you can think of a few that you have observed in yourself and in others.  \

Did you guess why Finney came to heel in the woods?  I was cold and I put my  hand in my pocket.  His heel cue is my left hand in my belly.

cartoon from,22286767


Melissa said...

Good points. Since we got our German Shepherd puppy in November I've been very interested in dog training principles. He was/is such a blank slate and is very clever.

I wish I hadn't taught him "shake" so early, like you mention! He gets a tad exuberant with it and will whack at you with one or both paws when excited. I am working on refining it however, we don't move on until he does it gently and properly.

His "sit" is almost bomb-proof, both hand signal and verbal cue. "Down" I'm still working on fading the lure. I think the "look down" approach with the verbal cue could work well for us. My older girl (a lab mix) responds well to that now and I trained her that way on accident (I did start by luring though).

Kelly Gorman Dunbar said...

Excellent post that addresses three different, but all important, training points. Luring, shaping, and unintentional cuing.

I love your term *relurant* and relying on the lure is a problem for some people, but...

It feels like you're down on luring as a technique based on poor execution of the method rather than on it's own merits.

"When we teach with lures and don't fade them straight away, it is a hard fix. So much easier to teach it right from the get go."

The thing is, any technique that isn't applied properly is going to cause a hard fix.

I must admit I don't understand why you feel luring as a method is more prone to handler errors than shaping.

I don't find shaping to be easier for the average handler, most don't have the timing or patience. With shaping it's so easy to get a superstitious behavior chain or accidentally mark the wrong moment...

Also, I don't find shaping to be quicker than luring in teaching positions, for the average person or for pros. Though, shaping is sometimes faster for teaching behavior chains and definitely the way to go for teaching distance behaviors.

Don't get me wrong, I see the value of shaping, and use it, but I still think that luring done right is easier for most people (non-dog-trainers especially, especially for teaching the basics.

I think the gist is, be aware of what you're doing - what you're really teaching/cueing/rewarding - and of what's most salient to your dog. A crucial reminder, thank you!

gooddogz said...

Thanks for commenting Mellisa! and Kelly _I teach luring in my classes. It is my new dog that is getting less luring than dogs of the past. Agree that any method can go awry. I think because I have kids that love to take cookies in front of dog's noses that I am also really trying to stop people from doing that to my rock star dog. I agree, even if I taught shaping to the average person, they will still lure.In Beck's case shaping downs taught him the verbal cue very quickly, so I didn't want my parents going backwards.I also do Freestyle and Freestyle dogs are not even allowed hand signals so I am approaching Beck different from the get go.

Debbie Jacobs said...

I have had cockers who are masters at chaining behaviors. Why run along merrily with me if you can stop and wait for a recall cue and get rewarded for it?

I've been played!