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Beginners Guide to Cue Seeking

Cue seeking begins from the reward process, selecting what we wish to act as the reinforcer - food or play, and evaluating this against the response of the dog. This is our starting point for any dog we are working with, whether the dog is 12 weeks or 12 years. Without reward and reinforcement there is unlikely to be learning of the type we are looking for. Activities that allow us to evaluate how our dog's are feeling, particularly whether they are fatigued or stressed, provide firm foundations for teaching.

Our first step is the game we call the 'Focus Game'. This helps us to assess whether the reinforcer we have chosen is also the dog's choice of reward at this moment. The focus game can tell us that a dog prefers to watch something else in the environment at this time and allows us to alter our training plans appropriately. Once the dog signals that they are able to join us for a training game, we start to look for the dog to re-engaged with us and make an enquiry 'what next', 'what are we doing today', 'how can I get more'? This is cue-seeking and if it is not present, our dog may be unable to learn at this time. Cue-seeking can be taught and is a foundational behaviour of a training session.

  1. Establish the value of your reinforcer - let your dog notice you collecting the food, this can be encouraged by your excitement of discovering this treasure first - 'sausages!'.

  2. Place the food at the dog's feet and return to your opening position.

  3. Allow the dog to eat at their own speed and then wait for the moment where they ask 'is there any more?'

  4. As they return to you with their question of more, this is reinforced by your response of 'there is plenty and you can have it'.

  5. Over the next 10 deliveries the process is going to vary slightly, you may place the food in different locations or take some extra time to deliver, selecting the very best piece of food in the pot.

  6. Once the behaviour is fluent, begin to add the cue 'ready'

My introduction to the concept of cue seeking came from my teacher Kay Laurence, like much of the teaching I have received from Kay, I may have tweaked the information, adapted it or even misinterpreted it. This happens to many of the ideas and concepts we use in dog training today and it is always useful to return to the source of the information for comparison. For more information on rewards: For more information on private coaching and training sessions email: or, alternatively complete the contact form.

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