Updated: Oct 21, 2019
Dog training cues are anything said or done that serve as a signal for the next task. They range from exercise specific (sit, down, stand, send out) to phase specific (tracking, obedience, protection). The cue can be as obvious or subtle as you wish. Typically, I start out with very obvious ones and gradually reduce them until they are barely noticeable.
When using them for specific exercises, the benefits go beyond cueing during a trial. They're also super helpful when moving forward a step in your training, going to a new field, or changing handlers. Incorporating an ear scratch, chest pat, muzzle touch, or whisper can be enough for the dog to avoid confusion and be successful.
Phase cues are even more important. Depending on your dog, this can be the difference between a pass or fail. A dog who shows up for obedience but thinks it’s protection will have a very difficult time focusing on the task at hand. Marko told me once of a dog and handler showing up for tracking, only to be DQ’d due to the dog attacking the tracking flag and not letting it go.
Cues for phases can be multiple layers. For example, my tracking cues are: long line on as soon as he’s out of the car, little back massage, stretch, casual heel, food as soon as he’s at the heel spot, walk a distance, casual down, put a few kibbles on the ground (let him sniff them out), adjust his line, and, finally, leave him in the down for various lengths of time.
This giant process may sound silly, but you know what? He never has a doubt about what we’re doing. Even with a whip cracking and dogs barking, cues make the job at hand chrystal clear.
You sir, are tracking.