Lesson 6: Adding cues (stimulus control)

When clicker training, we do not talk a whole lot. We are not telling the dog what to do all the time, or nagging him. When starting out we are focused on building good offered behaviors instead. The dog offers the behavior and we click and treat. The dog will then offer the behaviors more and more often, he will become better and better at them and soon we will have achieved fluency.

But shaping the behaviors is just the first step. When the dog performs the behavior the way we want him to, it is time to add the cue. With clicker training, we can teach really reliable cues.

There is a great advantage of training the behavior BEFORE we add the cue. If we try to train both the behavior and the cue at the same time, the dog will often make mistakes when we give the cue and this can lead to the cue becoming ”dilluted” before the behavior is properly trained. But if the dog already is really good at offering sitting down, running to you, lying down or targeting a mouse pad, adding the cue is simple. The dog already really wants to perform the behavior. We just have to tell him when to to it.

This is how you add a cue (we are using ”sit” as an example):

  1. Train the dog to offer the sit. Continue until you have reached reasonable fluency.
  2. Say ”sit” as the dog offers a sit. Repeat 20-30 times.
  3. Say ”sit” just before the dog offers the sit. Repeat 20-30 times.
  4. It is time to test drive the cue. Say ”sit” before the dog looks like he is about to sit down. Repeat this in different situations, but make sure that you only give the cue when you are reasonably sure that the dog will respond.
  5. Now we are also going to teach the dog to wait for the cue. The rules are now as follows: Only click for the sit if you have given the cue first. If your dog sits down before the cue, do not click. You are going to shape your dog to gradually wait longer for the cue without sitting down. You do this by giving the sit cue just as the dog waits a little to sit down. The next time you wait to give your cue until the dog has waited two seconds, and so on. Continue with the same rules until you see the dog ”getting it”. When he does, you can almost see a light in his eyes when you give the cue (”YES, finally the chance to earn a click!”.

Clicker trained cues do not mean ”Do it, or else...” like commands in dog training have done traditionally. Clicker trained cues are like green traffic lights. The dog will simply treasure being cued, because that means that he now can earn a click for the behavior (which he already knows so well).

The dog will be happy to hear cues. And the dog will be happy to hear clicks. Spot the similarity? Clicker trained cues really are just like clicks – clicker trained cues actually reinforce behavior, just the way the click does. We are going to use this principle in the hands on training in tomorrow’s class. But first you need to do your homework!

Practical homework

Teach your dog the cue to sit (or perhaps lie down if you have already clicker trained that behavior). Follow the steps above and see how far you get.


Teach your dog to sit on cue (or perhaps lie down if you have already clicker trained that behavior). Follow the steps above and see how far you get.

And then just look forward to tomorrow. We are going to do something SERIOUSLY fun then (but you need to complete todays homework first!)

Morten Egtvedt

(Chief Instructor, Canis Clickertraining Academy)

About the authors

This email course is made by Morten Egtvedt og Cecilie Koeste, chief instructors for Canis Clickertraining Academy and authors of the bestselling clicker training book Clickertraining: The Four Secrets of Becoming a Supertrainer.

The book is now available for instant download and comes with four excellent bonus videos where you can see how Morten and Ceci is training "live". Do you want to learn more about the book?

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