Identifying and Dealing With an Unintentional Drop Cue With a Prompt Switch

We have covered this before on the Cued Drop topic. Sometimes your dog learns to drop on a cue that you never intended to teach. In Loot’s case, the unintentional Drop cue happens when I pass or load the disc from the stack in my off hand to my throwing hand.

This loading of the discs, which is unintended for me is the intended cue from Yachi Method. And it’s a good one. It works. It is a bit limiting though and is not a good fit for me or for people who would like to have a bit more control over where and when the drop happens and how and when they load their discs.

This unintentional cue really snuck up on us too. I didn’t even know it was happening. It is extremely easy to miss unintentional Drop cues and to believe that it really is your intended cue making the move happen. I identified it a year or two ago and have done a bit of work with it but never finished up that work and have chosen to work around it. And that is a valid choice.

You do not have to fix an unintentional cue. It is possible to avoid it or use it to your advantage.

Changing Cues With a Prompt Switch

So let’s say your dog doesn’t drop or drops late. But the Drop happens on an unintentional cue, let’s say the passing of the discs from the off hand to the throwing hand, as is happening with Loot.

Once I have identified the cue that works (loading the discs) I can put the cue that doesn’t work or is weak or latent, directly before it. So I will cue “Aus” and then immediately load my disc. The weak cue (verbal) will predict the strong cue (loading of discs) and will become paired with it.

After a few hundred reps, the cues will become synonymous, and the dog will start to drop the disc before the strong, unintentional cue (loading of the discs) has begun. Once that is happening you can simply use your desired cue.

A Prompt Switch is how we change cues if something is triggering the behavior. All you do is put the weak cue before the strong cue, or the cue that doesn’t work before the cue that works.

Getting rid of the unintentional Drop cue with Loot is a multi-part process, and the Prompt Switch is no longer relevant with our work. That said, using a Prompt Switch is key for people who have a dog that doesn’t drop on your intended cue but drops elsewhere.

In the video you can see that Loot spits the disc out quite readily on the verbal cue, way before the unintended cue of loading the discs even starts. This is telling us that the Prompt Switch part of the work is done. To wrap up this little detour, the Prompt Switch is an academic exercise for Loot and I, but it is a terrific illustration of the unintentional Drop cue and a good demonstration of the Prompt Switch and one step in eradicating our unintentional Drop cue.

Classical & Operant Don’t Mix

The Prompt Switch is a classical conditioning exercise. You are not rewarding the behavior after it has been successfully done, you are using the pairing of an unintended cue that works to create a cue that works. You are making a conditioned stimulus.

In Pavlov, the bell is paired with food over and over again which makes the drool happen. The bell is a conditioned stimulus. The “behavior” is that the dog drools, and the food makes it happen. That’s classical conditioning. A classically conditioned cue is one that is paired with a stimulus that elicits the behavior enough times that the new cue will elicit the behavior.

This is not the same as paying a dog for doing something or rewarding a behavior. The pairing of the cues is key. If you move to operant conditioning too quickly by waiting until the dog has dropped before giving the unintentional cue, you will reinforce that unintentional cue and turn the new cue into inconsequent noise.

Get Classical THEN Go Consequent

It is very important to keep these things separate when working with a Prompt Switch until the dog is dropping on the new or intended cue. This will take many repetitions to become solid. Do the work. Do at least 100 reps of pairing your intended cue and the unintended cue, taking care that the weak cue (the one that doesn’t work) happens before the strong one (the one that works).

Once the dog is dropping on your intended cue before you give the unintended cue, simply stop offering the unintended cue. Mark and reinforce like normal training.

Simon Says

I mentioned above that Loot will require some additional steps for dealing with this unintentional Drop. I will have to lay out something of a Simon Says game. I will have to try to both pair and conflate the unintentional cue of loading the discs with the verbal “Aus” and teach him that “Aus” is like listening for Simon Says.

I will have to teach him that the loading of the discs without the Aus is like getting a command without Simon Says in front of it.

Hopefully we can get some footage of those lessons in the future.

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