January 20, 2007

Cues as Reinforcers

At Summer Camp we did some work on the timing of cues, which reminded me of the Karen Pryor article on the use of well timed cues as reinforcers in agility.

An agility run involves a long series of cues about where to go and what to do next. Some are physical cues—turns and moves by the handler— and some are verbal cues: “Tunnel!” “Weave!” “Left!” You have an opportunity to make each of those cues work in your favor by presenting it during (not after) some other behavior that you want to maintain or increase.

Of course if the dog doesn't know or understand the cue, it has no reinforcing ability. Cues have to be built carefully, consistently, and preferably off-course, so you as handler don't get fooled into assuming the dog knows what you mean.

The message is that you need to know what your cues are. Are you using moves? Fine, just use them consistently and also with appropriate timing, so you make use of their powers as reinforcers. Are you using both moves and verbals? Great, again as long as you know what the dog is really responding to and what is just superstitious behavior on your part.

No comments: