In this post, the third in a series about Dr. Ian Dunbar’s new seminar, Science-Based Dog Training (with Feeling), we’ll begin our foray into some of the issues that are giving positive trainers something to bark about. (See the end of this post for links to previous posts in this series.)
Today’s topic: Repeating cues.
“Do not repeat a cue. I repeat. Do not repeat a cue.” That was the dog training catechism I was taught.
When someone else would ask puppy Sadie to sit over and over, barely taking a breath between iterations, as did the receptionist at the puppy daycare I took her to once a week for a few hours, I’d silently blow my Kong. Not that I reprimanded the nice woman. I didn’t. But, I did calmly ask her to please say the cue once only and give Sadie a chance to respond.
So, imagine how my ears perked up when Dr. Dunbar said repeating cues is not a problem. Well, actually, he said more than that, and I would be misleading you if I were to leave it at no hay problema.
Briefly, in Stage 1 we teach our dog verbal cues for behaviors and actions so that we may instruct the dog what to do. Dr. Dunbar refers to this as teaching our dogs ESL.
At Stage 2 we focus on motivating our dogs to really want to do what we ask them to do by, among other things, incorporating life rewards such as playing with their doggy pal.
In Stage 3 we insist that our dogs comply with our verbal cues. You know, sit means sit, as in put your butt, and only your butt, on the ground immediately.
I think it’s important to say at this juncture that Dr. Dunbar isn’t of the mind that Rover must comply immediately to every cue ever uttered without exception. In fact, he employs a DogCon system that communicates to Rover the level of urgency and performance pizazz being requested ranging from: “It would be nice if you would sit, or whatever,” to “‘Sit’ now as if your life depended on it!” I won’t go into it here, but you can read about DogCon at Dog Star Daily by searching “DogCon.”
Okay, so what do we do if Rover doesn’t sit when cued, and we want to teach him to comply without question? This is where repeating cues comes into play, when, and only when, the conditions of Stages 1 & 2 have been met. Rover knows beyond a shadow of a doubt what sit means and is 90% reliable in performing the behavior on cue, and he is highly motivated to sit under most circumstances…..except, well, today, say, at puppy class where he’s found a empty treat jar to investigate.
Enter repeating the cue. Here’s how it might go:
- Seated in your chair, quietly say, “Rover, sit.”
- Rover, who is about 4 feet away, continues sniffing the jar.
- Stand up and say, “Rover. Sit. Sit.” Then give the hand signal for sit.
- Rover doesn’t sit. He doesn’t even hear you. He’s absorbed in pushing the jar, that he just knocked over, around the floor.
- Take 1 step towards Rover, and say “Rover. Sit. Sit!,” Give the hand signal for sit once. Then, twice.
- Rover looks at you as if to say, “You want something?”
- Don’t take another step. Stand where you are. Say, “R-o-v-e-r. S-i-t!” Followed by your hand signal.
- Rover sits!
- “Thank you.”
- Then say, “Rover, come,” and back up a few steps so Rover moves toward you.
- Rover sits in front of you.
- “Good dog. Go play.”
Let’s see. The first sit took 6 verbal cues, 4 hand signals, standing up, and taking 1 step towards Rover before he complied. Finally, he sat after one verbal cue. That’s the point. Requiring compliance after one verbal cue before releasing Rover to play.
Repeat the exercise after Rover has been playing for short time. With each successive trial he should be ‘sitting’ while farther and farther away from you, and after fewer and fewer verbal and hand cues, until he is responding to one verbal cue at a distance.
Dr. Dunbar calls this procedure Repetitive reinstruction until compliance (RRC). The aim? “I want an owner who can give a casual verbal cue from a distance and the dog sits. Then, ‘go play’. The person gives no intention signals. She or he is just sitting casually still and tells the dog to sit.”
I decided to take RRC for a test drive with Sadie’s BFF, Romeo. He meets the necessary criteria. He knows very well the verbal cue, sit, and he’s typically well motivated to comply.
Mr. R. was eviscerating a purple gorilla about 4 feet from me in our living room.
- “Romeo, sit,” I said nonchalantly.
- Romeo lifted his head to look at me with the ape dangling limply from his mouth.
- “R-o-m-e-o. SIT.” I said with quiet insistence.
- Romeo didn’t budge.
- I stood up. “Sit.” I gave the hand signal for sit.
- Romeo sat!
- “Romeo. Here. Sit“
- Mr. R. dropped the toy and sat down in front of me. I told him, “Go play.”
A minute or so later I again cued Romeo to sit. He was about 8 feet from me this time and exuberantly shaking the now gutted purple gorilla. He sat instantly.
“Learning theorists say this (RRC) won’t work or shouldn’t work,” Dr. Dunbar said. “All I know is that when we do this routine we will end up with a dog who will sit at a distance on a single cue no matter what the dog is doing.”
I’m not sure why RRC seems to work either. One thing, though, as I understand it, RRC is not the same as repeating a single cue in rapid succession so that sit morphs into sitsitsitsit. There’s a brief pause (a second, maybe) between cues, both verbal and physical,
To be honest, even though I subscribe to the one cue doctrine, I occasionally do repeat cues either because I think I need to, as in Sadie, wait….wait, even though she hasn’t budged, or because she doesn’t comply as fast I would like. If the behavior I’m cuing seems to be falling apart I get out the clicker and shape it up.
Most dog guardians (That’s what we’re called in Boulder. Really. Dog owners are referred to as guardians in municipal law. This affectation does not, however, translate into Boulder being particularly dog friendly. It’s not. Don’t get me started.) in my experience aren’t into the finer points of dog training. They do what comes naturally and that includes repeating cues. Yes, I know. Sometimes to distraction. But, I think that’s in part what Dr. Dunbar is trying to address with RCC. He seems to have found a path of least resistance. People apparently can repeat cues and ultimately get compliance when saying the cue once.
What do you think? How does this work?
At the close of the Denver seminar there were a few remaining DVD’s on the sales table in the back of the room. Dr. Dunbar didn’t want to lug them home and asked me to give them away. How cool is that?
You’ll receive a set of 3 DVD’s:
- Training Dogs with Dunbar: Fun training for you and your dog
- Training the Companion Dog: Adapted from the ‘Dogs with Dunbar’ television program
- Every Picture Tells a Story: An educational Aid for Children to explore the language of dogs
How do I enter to win the DVD’s?
Leave a comment to this post by 11:59 pm MDT April 4, 2011 and you will be entered into the giveaway.
A winner will be selected by a random number generator.
I will notify the winner by email and ask for their address. The winner will have 24 hours to reply. If they do not reply within 24 hours, I will notify the second person on the list created by the random number generator, and so on.
Due to shipping logistics, only residents of the Unites States and Canada will be entered in the giveaway.
PREVIOUS POSTS IN THIS SERIES: