Proper cuing is critical for successful disc dog performance. Issues with cuing and the resultant communication problems are, perhaps, the most common mistakes handlers make and the most common impediments to successful performance in all aspects of disc dog freestyle and disc dog games.
What Is a Cue?
A cue is a signal that tells the dog what to do. In dog training situations where the dog is the only athlete, a fast response time is important and may be the most important criteria. This is not the case with cooperative work where dog and handler are a team.
Cuing for Quick Compliance
Sometimes this fast response time leads to prediction by the dog. Lots of dogs jump cues by leaping into action before the cue has been fully delivered. Lots of dogs hear the sound “S…” and are sitting before the T. They hear “D…” and their belly hits the floor before the n in “Down”. This is often seen as a desirable result and is seen as good performance. Until it is not…
There is a reason that handlers choose their verbal cues very carefully. It is important to have different sounding cues so the dog does what is asked instead of what they think is going to be asked or what they think is supposed to happen here.
I seen more than a few handlers working on stimulus control in order to curb this prediction, saying “Sssss….” and expecting the dog to not have their but on the ground. Offering other words that start with the same letter to see if the dog is actually listening or is predicting the cue and responding contextually.
This same kind of proofing work is also done with physical movements and handler actions, for largely the same reason.
This kind of teamwork is required in competitive obedience or high level learning and is beyond the backyard stuff, but so are disc dog games and freestyle.
Cuing for Cooperative Work
In cooperative work the criteria for the cue changes from fast response time to a coordinated response. In fact, a fast, predictive response can be a dealbreaker for a coordinated action.
When a dog jumps the cue at the “G…” in “Go Around”, leaps into action on the “V…” in vault, or leaps for the flip on the backswing of the flip toss, the handler is late to the game and is playing catch up – right from the cue.
The dog needs to respond to a cue with the handler. That cue is the signal for the team to be prepared
A cue in cooperative work is much like a turn signal in traffic. If the blinker and the turn happen at the same time the car that is responsible for hitting the brakes is late to the game and playing catch up and an accident is far more likely to happen. A whole sequence of events happen after that poor signal: brakes are slammed on, cars swerve, drivers swear and curse, and it starts a traffic jam.
When the turn signal is turned on before the turn everyone on the road knows what happens and cooperates to avoid an accident.
The Difference Between the Cue and the Trigger
The cue signals the action to come and the trigger activates the action. A good cue should be received as a question of sorts,”OK, this car is going to turn…” You then put that information into the situation – looks like he’s going to Dunkin Donuts… Then the car slows down and makes the turn.
You know how you sometimes have to ask,”Is this guy ever going to turn?” or “Where does she think she’s going?” That’s the effect of a good signal. It keeps us on the same page and reinforces cooperative work.
A simultaneous turn signal and turn is shocking and jarring and violates the very spirit of cooperation.
If you are giving a verbal cue there should be a trigger that follows it to start the action. “Around…” then the hand flips the disc by the hip to send the dog or the handler steps back in the appropriate direction to send the dog around.
Giving a Scoot cue? “Scoot…” then the hand signal, then the legs open up to let the dog back up between the legs.
“Through.” Then the legs open up.
We teach the cue as a question, even suggest that the handler pose the cue as a suggestion, complete with the rising voice at the end.
The verbal cue is a question that begs an answer. The physical cue is the answer that triggers the question.
Separating the Cue and Trigger
In cooperative work it is important to separate the cue and the trigger. You don’t want the dog springing into action on your verbal cue. If the dog springs into action on your verbal cue, be prepared for the dog to go on the very first sound out of your mouth, and the resultant traffic jam of you trying to keep up.
Likewise, you don’t want the dog going on the throw. If the dog goes on your throw, be prepared for the dog to break into action on your backswing.
Give your cue as a question and pause a moment. Let the question sink in. Let the dog ask himself,”OK… Through… What are we going through?” Then answer that question with your hand signal and legs opening.
Verbal THEN Physical
If you’re using a verbal cue offer it first to set up the question and answer the question and trigger the behavior with the physical cue. Boom – Pow.