Nancy Kerns: Hi! I am Nancy Kerns, Editor of the Whole Dog Journal and today we are going to talk about training cues. When most people meet a dog for the first time, they almost always say sit, sit, sit, but there's no point in saying it unless the dog understands the cue that they're asking for.
A cue is not a cue until the dog understands that if he produces the correct behavior he'll get a reward for doing it. There are many things we can as cues. Basically, anything that's easy for a dog to perceive. A super subtle cue is hard for a dog to perceive and it may be difficult for the owner to reproduce consistently and consistency is important. Sit is a good cue, but repeating it sit, sit, sit over and over again is not.
Dogs who can hear well maybe able to easily learn audible cues like whistles, mouth clicks, finger snapping, or words. Gestures work well when the dog can see well, but they're not as effective at long range and something like a whistle. Gestures can be large or small. Anything that lets the animal know that there is an opportunity to receive a reward if he performs a certain behavior.
The best way to introduce a cue is to pair it with a simultaneous performance of the behavior. You can just wait for the dog to do a behavior and capture it, you can lure him with a food tree, or use your posture to get him to move his own body into the position you want.
As soon as you're able to elicit the behavior from him consistently, pair your cue with his simultaneous performance of the behavior and continue marking and rewarding. After a half dozen or a dozen repetitions of this, try using the queue first and posing for a moment. If he performs the behavior mark and reward him. If he gets it, keep building on the success. If he doesn't do the behavior within a second or two, elicit the behavior as you did before pairing the cue again with the performance. Then try to cue first again.
Make sure, you give him a few seconds to think it over. Some dogs think very slowly, some make connections a little faster, and some dogs leap into action without seemingly thinking at all.