Cues such as sit, down, come or leave it are crucial to having a well-mannered dog.
You can teach your dog any new cue by following these five easy steps.
1. Get your dog to offer the behavior; mark and reward the behavior.
2. Add the verbal cue.
3. Fade the lure.
4. Put the behavior on a schedule of variable reinforcement.
5. Generalize the behavior.
Luring is probably the most common method used to obtain a behavior. Luring is using something the dog wants to guide your dog into a specific position. A very common way to teach your puppy to sit is to hold a treat over his head and move it backwards towards his tail. In all likelihood, your dog will follow the treat with his head and “fall” into a sit.
Capturing is waiting for your dog to offer the behavior you want on his own. If you want to teach your dog to take a bow, wait until he wakes up from his nap. Many dogs will do a stretch that looks remarkably like bowing (elbows and chest touching the ground; rear end sticking up). When this happens you can mark the behavior (more on that in a minute) and reward the dog.
Shaping is the process of teaching a behavior, step by step, by reinforcing small approximations of a behavior until you achieve your final goal. Clicker trainers often use shaping to train a behavior like “go to your crate”.
Targeting means teaching your dog to touch a designated location with a body part (usually his nose or paw). Service dogs are frequently taught how to push an elevator button or shut a cabinet door by using targeting.
Modeling is the process of moving, placing or sculpting your dogs’ body into a position. Shake is commonly taught using modeling.
Reflux is using the dog’s natural reflex action to cause the physical response you want. For example, you can teach your dog to walk backwards by walking directly towards him in a narrow hallway.
Sometimes, you just need to be creative. One way to get your dog to speak (bark) may be to ring the doorbell. A way to get your dog to come may be to run in the opposite direction and engage him in a game of chase.
Marking and rewarding the behavior means letting your dog know that he has done what you want by making a consistent noise and pairing it with a treat. Many trainers like to use a clicker. Behaviors can also be marked by snapping your fingers, making a clucking noise or using a high-pitched verbal YES. It is important that the marker noise is made at the precise moment your dog does what you want. The marker then becomes the bridge to the treat reward.
Before adding the verbal cue, be sure the dog offers the behavior consistently first. I’ve seen many clients trying to teach their dog the ‘down’ cue by luring and repeating “down, down, down” when initially trying to teach the behavior. Because your dog doesn’t know what down means, this can be very confusing as he sits, stands up, tries to snatch the treat, scratches his ear and does a myriad of movements that bear no resemblance to a down. Which one of those many movements were a down? Your dog will learn the down cue faster if you wait until your dog “gets it” and starts offering the behavior before adding the verbal cue. Mark and reward the behavior.
Once your dog has made the connection between the cue and the behavior, start to ask for the behavior without actually holding the treat in your hand. This is called fading the lure. When the dog performs the behavior, immediately mark the behavior and grab a treat reward from your pocket or from a nearby table and reward.
When the dog performs the behavior for you without the treat in your hand on a pretty regular basis, start to treat your dog every second or third time. Scientists call this “putting the behavior on a schedule of variable reinforcement.” Be sure to continue marking the behavior but reward (treat) sporadically. For example, you may want to treat three times in a row, then skip once, treat twice, skip twice. Turning this into a game and repeating the cues quickly keeps the dog interested and motivated.
This last step is important – practice the new command in different locations and slowly add distractions. Just because your dog will sit in the kitchen does not mean he will initially make the connection to sit in your living room or front porch. This process is called “generalizing” the behavior.
Follow this five step program and your dog will be learning new cues in no time