Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Tessa has struggled with the concept of verbal cues.  She does just fine with hand signals, but when I try to put behaviors on verbal, she tends to start a frenzy of offering any behavior that comes to mind!  It's like most verbal cues mean "star doing everything you know!" to her.  And she is incredibly pleased with herself for doing this!!

I do not want to squelch her enthusiasm.  It took a very, very long time for Tessa to have the confidence to offer anything, much less be pleased about doing so!

A couple of days ago I was talking with a well known trainer and she ended up giving me a couple of "nuggets" that I think will help us with this issue.

The concept that really struck me was the idea of context.

Physical cues and body language provide context to a dog.  They tell the dog "this is when you . . . (insert behavior here)"  Verbals alone come out of nowhere.  Unless the dog has a natural ability to distinguish one verbal from another, as Dean does, this is presenting a situation to the dog that is void of context.

So, I am now thinking of ways that I can provide context to Tessa without using visual cues that we will get nailed for in Freestyle.  I have never really been a fan of creating physical cues that don't resemble the way the behavior was taught.  To me that is about as logical as using words that have no connection to the behavior as verbal cues.  But I think that if I really put some thought into this, I can come up with ways to provide Tessa with context without doing something like that.  I can give her "hints" as to what is coming by where I put my foot, or by standing up a little straighter, or by twisting a little.

We are going to need to explore this, but I wonder if Tessa and I would be able to almost develop our own cueing "language" that would be imperceptible or, at least, almost, that would help her to better recognize and respond correctly to verbal cues?

The other thing that really struck me is that for a dog who is not naturally verbal, the dog may need physical cue support for a longer time than a dog who does not.  But while this is happening, the dog is learning.  Actually, she did not out and say this, but I kind of gleaned it.  I remembered, though, that this really was the way Speedy learned most of what he knew.  I used hand signals liberally until it was obvious to me that he didn't need them anymore.  It was on his time schedule, not mine.  I think Tessa would benefit from that approach.

I mean to put together a little practice sequence to try this out on.  If I am able to get something going, maybe it is something we can apply to an entire routine . . .

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