I entered the Rally ring feeling completely nervous. The judge looked at me and said, “whenever you are ready.” I responded while looking at Sulu, “I’m ready!” Sulu looked up at me with his beautiful brown eyes.
“Ready” is my competition sneaky cue. It answers the judge’s question, and also is a cue for my dog to look up at me. In competition, we often use subtle body language cues as well. For instance, standing with the left arm folded in front or stepping off with the left foot first.
For service dogs, sneaky cues can help by providing a way for the owner to discreetly communicate to the dog. Service dogs should not draw attention in public. However, “Rover, sit” can stand out against normal conversation. On the other hand, a subtle hand movement used as a cue is much less likely to draw attention. Cues that are subtle can prevent the need for interrupting a conversation in order to control the dog’s movements. In a quiet office, library, class or business meeting, sneaky cues can make the difference between a team that draws attention and one that does not.
A combination of smaller, more subtle hand movements and verbal cues that are more conversational often work well for service dogs. I even use my adaptive equipment. I tap on the left arm rest of my wheelchair as a cue for my dog to come closer to the chair. The beep from the chair means my dog needs to stand up and get ready to move. A common phrase, such as “excuse me” can be taught as a cue for attention.
When cuing tasks, hand signals can be combined with tones of voice that sound less “trainery” and more like normal speech. While it may not make a difference in how the dog performs, it can make a difference in how the dog is perceived in public. Last but not least, praise can also be transitioned to become more conversational, such as “thank you,” spoken with a smile and paired with petting.
Any other ideas for sneaky cues? Please share. Happy training!