Alright, folx. Sorry for that bait and switch.
We aren’t going to actually teach your pet to read as we read, but this fun little trick is a blast to show your friends and has a lot of practical uses!
Once you understand the concept, and you’ve worked with your pet on this, you’ll find all sorts of helpful ways to use this skill!
What You Need
A trick or behavior that your pet knows well (and by that I mean, when you ask them to do it, they are highly likely to do it)
A piece of paper with what you want them to “read”
A low-distraction environment
A marker – whether it’s a verbal marker like “yes!” or a clicker
Sweet, I’ve Got The Stuff, Now What?
Great question! Let’s get into it!
Warm up your well-known behavior with a couple of practice cues. Help your pet remember that “THIS” means “THAT”. We can all use a refresher every now and again!
After your warm-up…
You’re going to show your pet the paper you want them to “read”
Take a very brief pause
Give the cue for the well-known behavior
When they do the behavior, mark, give them a treat, and put the paper behind your back or otherwise “hide” it.
Again, you’re going to…
Mark and reward
Practice this a few times over one to two minutes, and then give your dog a brain break. This can be a short snuffle session, a little play, or some scritches. Just something that lets them reset.
And when you’re both ready, you can do another short session.
You’re going to…
Mark and reward
What you’re watching for is the time that you show your dog the paper, and they start to do the behavior!
Once you see that, you’re going to…
Mark and reward
And congratulations through practice and repetitions! You’ve taught your dog to “read”! Here’s a quick video of me practicing teaching Laika to “read” the word “DOWN”.
Why This is a Helpful Skill
Again, sorry for what might feel like a bait and switch. This isn’t particularly helpful for your dog. I mean sure, it might be helpful or quite funny if you hold up a sign during zoom calls that says “stop” and your dog goes and lies down, but the real helpfulness is for you.
This process is known as a cue transfer.
What we are doing is translating for your pet. We’re saying “Hey, you know that THIS means THAT already, but did you also know that THISSSS also means THAT?”
And, because you probably already know that the order of events matters in teaching, we want:
This gives us a framework and a shortcut to teach our dog more desirable responses in a plethora of situations.
Let’s Look at Another Example
Griffey came to us already interested in the things that are on the counters. And really, who can blame him, we make food that smells rad! But that also meant that he was typically underfoot while I was cooking, which was both annoying and a safety concern.
So we looked at things we had already taught him and determined what would be the most helpful in this situation.
Nose to hand target? I’d really rather him not try to boop my hand while I’m chopping veggies.
Look at human? I mean, sure, but he can look longingly and lovingly into my face while also putting his tootsies on the counter.
Go to your mat? Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner! We could place the mat outside of the reach of the counters, or even outside the threshold of the kitchen.
Then we needed to determine what the new cue would be. I could ask him to go to the mat, but I’m a silly human and forget these things. We landed on “person enters kitchen” means “go to your mat”.
So the process looked like this:
Mat outside of the kitchen
Walk into the kitchen (New cue)
“Go to bed” (Old cue)
Mark and reward
Toss a reset cookie and leave the kitchen
Rinse and repeat
Over time, Griffey learned, when my person goes into the kitchen, it pays (and boy does it pay well!) to go to my mat.
What Are Some Other Practical Uses
Oooh, dawgies, the sky is the limit as long as you have some creativity! Here are some situations we use often in our household:
- Dog barking outside = come to person for a treat
- Person carrying food puzzle = go to bed
- See a person outside = look at mom/dad
- Need to go outside = bow at the door
- Pat on my leg or tap on my desk = pay attention to me
- Assess a situation where a cue transfer might help your communication and harmony with your pet! How can you help your pet by translating for them?
- Start translating for your pet! You can either team them something useful to you, or just something that’s pretty stinking cute.
- And even though cue transfers are commonly used when tackling challenging behavior, if you’re struggling with behavior challenges in your home this process alone won’t help you and your pet find the harmony you both deserve. Our consultants are here to help you and your pet improve your communication and enjoy each other’s company again!