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Adding the Cue

When we first start out clicker training, we tend to get very excited about the fact that we can teach the dog a new behavior in just a few clicks. Suddenly we have a dog that sits, does a belly flop down, a spin, a paw wave, and six other things-but all at once. You're hoping for a sit/stay, and the dog is running through his entire repertoire trying to find something you'll click.

All this means is that you haven't named the behaviors yet. You haven't added the cue, as we say. Here's a quick and painless way to do that: work two opposite behaviors at once. For example: in your living room, after the dog has learned that sitting makes you click, and coming towards you makes you click, teach this lesson: You say sit, the dog sits, you click and treat. Step backwards, bend over, call the dog with the word "come"-the dog comes forward a step or two, click, treat. Step toward the dog, say "sit," the dog sits, click, treat, step away from the dog, say "come." After three or four rounds stop moving forward and back and just use the words. (Toss the treat after the sit, to get the dog far enough away from you to be able to "come.") In three minutes, with twenty clicks or more and a steady stream of successes, you have two behaviors and two new cues for the price of one.

As for that frantic whirlwind of tricks, the dog is telling you that he has no cues for those behaviors yet. Add those cues at the rate of one or two per five-minute session. With each cue, it gets easier. Once a dog has acquired three cues for three behaviors, and can respond to them confidently in new rooms and at different times, the dog will have the picture and you'll be able to "explain" subsequent new cues in just a few clicks.

About the author
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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

Laurie Luck's picture


The cue does come before the behavior in both examples. You start by adding the cue right before the behavior happens, but then you "back out" the cue so it actually comes before the behavior starts. The cue is what will make the behavior start, eventually. But first, you will pair it with the behavior happening. Is that clear -- or did I muddy the waters?
Laurie Luck
For Clickertraining.com
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
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I'm a little confused. Debi Davis, in an article she wrote in 1999, said "I begin to add the "cue" word just before the click". I interpret that to mean a second or fraction thereof before the click...just before the dog's butt touches the floor, and the click when his butt has landed. Your article above leads me to believe the cue should come before the behavior. Is there a preference of these two choices, or have I misinterpreted?

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