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Dog Responding Slowly to Cues

Excerpted from Click for Joy: Questions and Answers from Clicker Trainers and their Dogs by Melissa Alexander, an unparalleled guide to the concepts of clicker training. Melissa is also the moderator of ClickerSolutions, an online discussion forum.

Q: My dog is responding slowly to the cue. How can I get a faster response?

A: Latency is the time between the cue and the response. Ideally, that time is zero—or as close to it as possible. Latency, as trainer Morgan Spector says, is habitual. If you make a short latency a requirement of every behavior you teach, the dog will automatically apply that concept to new behaviors.

Before you concentrate on shortening latency, proof the cue thoroughly. Until the dog is very sure what the cue means, it will take him time to "translate" it.

Once the cue is solidly attached, speed of response can be shaped like any other element:

  • Determine your starting point by doing ten reps of the behavior and recording how long it lakes for the dog to perform the behavior after you give the cue each time. Two seconds? Three? Eight? Add up the numbers you've recorded and divide by ten. The resulting average is your baseline—your starting point.
  • Do ten reps, using your baseline as your criterion. Reinforce all responses that occur at or more quickly than your baseline. Consider all reps that take longer than your baseline as errors and do not reinforce them.
  • At the end of ten reps, evaluate. If the dog got at least eight correct—made two or fewer errors—then you're ready to make it harder. If he made three or more errors, stay at this level during the next session. It may take several sessions to achieve eighty percent reliability.
  • When you're ready to make it harder, cut the time by a second or so. Instead of doing the behavior within four seconds, the dog would be required to perform in three seconds in order to earn reinforcement.
  • As you get closer to zero, you may need to tighten your criterion by only half a second in order for the dog to remain successful.

If your dog makes more than fifty percent incorrect responses in three consecutive sessions, reevaluate your latency criterion. You've moved too quickly.

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