Day 66 Transferring Cues

Welcome to Day 66 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!

Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.

Don’t forget to review all the information leading up to #100daysofenrichment and more here on playing safe. Know your dog!


Transferring Cues

At a glance:

  • understand how learning and behaviour work so that you can teach new behaviours responsive to environmental cues
  • the key to teaching is not in training new behaviours (the dog can already do and is already doing them) but to get behaviour under stimulus control, so that we can ask for behaviour
  • stimulus control is hard to achieve, even though everyone believes their dog knows sit or down etc.
  • cognitive based enrichment
  • while children might be able to participate with some of these exercises, there will be lots of canine excitement and activity with some of these games so they might not be safe for kids
    Remember, supervise children in all enrichment activities and interactions with pets.
  • training exercises can be practiced in individual sessions of 1-2 minutes at a time; have as many sessions as you can!

Today we are going to look at what teaching and training dogs is really all about, while giving them new skills to navigate their world.

Your dog can already do most of the behaviours you want to train – dogs can lie down, they can walk, they can return to you. We want them to do behaviours under certain conditions, mainly when we ask them.
We are teaching dog to carry out specific behaviours at specific times.

While most people behave as if their dog’s behaviour is reliable on verbal cues, this is least likely to be the case. Dogs are much better at learning about environmental, context, body language cues than they are about words so words are likely the last thing they will learn about.

Good thing too as today’s games are all about context and environmental cues!


What do you need?

  • food rewards – you can use your dog’s regular food, a training mix, commercial treats, home prepared treats such as cut up meats, cheese, vegetables or homemade treats such as liver or tuna cake
  • favourite toys
  • stuffables and lappable/lickables
  • depending on which training games you work on, you will need your dog’s lead, his bed or mat, and even your doorbell!

Enrichment Goals:

  • to teach the dog the meaning of stimuli around him, improving clarity and predictability
  • to teach alternative, more appropriate behaviours without the need for punishers or aversives
  • to teach the dog that their human won’t nag or coerce
  • to build that bond between dog and human
  • to have a fun and rewarding experience in social situations, between dogs and humans
  • to learn about learning – this is just another puzzle to your dog…”how do I train the human to make rewards available?!“…it’s all human training, for dogs!

While training exercises certainly fall into the cognitive enrichment category, they can provide so much more.

Improving clarity helps to boost your relationship with your pet, enhances your ability to communicate with one another and builds trust. This is a level of social enrichment that’s tricky to replicate.

When we talk about enrichment being enriching, this is never more clear than when we start to teach behaviours intentionally. It’s the human’s job to set the dog up for success by making sure the behaviour is doable and that rewards are fast-flowing.

There’s no test at the end of this and you and your pet are not under any pressure. Learn to enjoy the time together, whether you achieve the goal behaviour or not. That’s what’s enriching here…the social and cognitive outlets such exercises provide (for both species).

What goals can you add to this list for your pets?

How can we achieve these goals?

  • although you can use any reward that your dog will work for, using small food rewards that are quick to eat are best for some of these exercises so we can have lots of fast repetitions
  • keep it simple and split behaviour – reward approximations toward the final behaviour, rather than hoping that your dog will offer the goal behaviour quickly
  • take your time and work in many short sessions
  • try for a couple of minutes at a time, 5-10 rewards each session, and then take a break
  • plan each session – what behaviours are you looking for and rewarding?
  • watch the clips and try out the exercise
  • portion out your dog’s daily food and allot some for training exercises


  • make a training mix by adding in something yummier and leaving it all to ‘cook’ together in the fridge; the smells will mingle, harder foods will soften a little, and everything will become more valuable20190105_121536763_ios
  • remember to adjust your pet’s diet accordingly to accommodate the extra calories from treats added, where relevant
  • split your food rewards into little bowls with just the right number of rewards in each bowl so that you are ready to go; stick bowls of rewards in places where you may need to teach and reward behaviours so that you have rewards ready to go


What adjustments will you make for your pets?

Applications of Transferring Cues:

You say “sit!”, your dog sits, and you give him a treat…that’s the way this is supposed to work, right? Let’s look at what really happens when behaviour happens.

Traditionally, dog training was approached with a “better do as I say, or else…” and we believed that our function, as trainer, was to bark ‘commands’ at the dog.  But, now, thankfully, we have a much better understanding of how behaviour works.

First lesson, behaviour is not in the dog, behaviour happens in the environment.
What we mean by this is, is that the dog is not bold, difficult, untrainable, dominant, aggressive, dangerous…
But, the dog might exhibit x behaviour in certain environmental conditions. Basically, even when you feel that behaviour is inappropriate, the dog is responding in an appropriate manner according to the environmental conditions you have set up for him.


Wait, what?

You, the human, are responsible for the environmental conditions to which your dog is exposed. The buck stops with you. If the dog is carrying out behaviour you don’t like, or not carrying out behaviour you would like,  this is down to you.

In dog training, we refer to A-B-C or antecedent – behaviour – consequence.
The antecedent or A (might also be referred to as a cue, conditioned stimulus, discriminitive stimulus) happens before behaviour and it tells the animal to do that behaviour because that makes a particular consequence available.
The consequence or C, might be a reinforcer (something that strengthens behaviour) or a punisher (something that weakens behaviour).


You control, for the most part, which As your dog is exposed to and which Cs your dog has access to – As and Cs are in the environment, not in the dog.
To ‘fix’ problem behaviour, you need to know what’s happening before, the A, and what’s happening after, the C and then prevent access and exposure.


When we are teaching a dog to do a behaviour when we ask, we are really just setting up the antecedent, that triggers the behaviour, and transferring the meaning to the antecedent to the one you want to use.

With that in mind, think of how you can rearrange your dog’s environment to prevent unwanted behaviour, making it less efficient and less rewarding.
This also opens you to think in terms of the desired behaviour; instead of thinking about stopping behaviour, instead, think what would you prefer the dog to do?
By preventing unwanted behaviour, you can fill that gap with a new reinforceable and desired behaviour.

Your dog is behaving all the time, and is responding to antecedents (or cues) all around him. For training to be efficient and effective, we want to choose to teach the antecedents the dog is most likely to learn. Words don’t feature high on that list.

Bunny learns to go to her crate when her owners go to the door, instead of barking and jumping up. A person approaching the door has become a cue for her to return to her crate and remain their, awaiting reinforcement.

Instead of punishing this behaviour, we think, what would we prefer the dog to do? She can’t pursue, jump up, and is less likely to bark, from her crate.

Playlist link here.

Today’s challenges look at teaching the dog new antecedents: when <something> happens in the environment, do this <behaviour>. This greatly speeds up teaching and makes it easier to apply learning.

Enrichment Options

All our games today will help your dog transfer one set of antecedents for another, that makes carrying out the behaviour more efficient and appropriate.

When you think of a new, more desirable behaviour, think of the emotions behind the undesired behaviour and how you can build in more appropriate emotions with the new behaviour.

What does the dog already associate and expect with the new behaviour? Instead of activity and arousal, maybe we can associate calm focus, high value rewards and quieter activities.

Many dogs burst out the door, with arousal and frustration. To combat that, many teach, or attempt to teach, the dog to wait inside the door but this often contributes to building frustration and an even bigger burst out the door when released.

Instead, teach the dog that just outside the open door is a sniffing station and very soon, the opening door is a cue for the dog to whip back around and focus on their human, instead of bursting out.

Clip link

Option 1 Polite Greetings

Dogs get pretty excited about greeting new people; they want to greet face to face,  but we make that difficult by standing up and being tall.
To dogs, greeting calmly and with all four paws on the floor are pretty arbitrary rules.

Jumping up tends to be taken very seriously by pet owners. It’s important to remember that from about 3 weeks of age your dog has been practicing jumping up, so it’s well rehearsed long before you bring puppy home.

The simplest approach is to greet the dog; hook the dog’s collar (so you don’t get a bloody nose) and greet the dog. The jumping dog may just need to greet.

Jumping up can be associated with being over-aroused and not quite able to handle the situation; this clip looks at that:


Rearrange the environment:

We can prevent the dog jumping up by carefully slotting in a new antecedent arrangement before the old, established one. This prevents the dog being exposed to the established triggers for behaviour.

Use a sniffing station inside the door:


Throw food rewards just before jumping is likely:


You could just as easily have the dog behind a baby gate before greeting, or have the dog on lead to prevent jumping.

Stop access to rewards:

Prevent the dog being rewarded for jumping up behaviour by withdrawing attention for jumping up behaviour.


What would you prefer the dog to do?

We are also asking, what would we prefer the human to do?!

In greetings, you might have two problems: the dog jumping up and the human rewarding that behaviour with lots of attention and interaction.

By giving both the greeter and greetee a job to do, more desired behaviour, what we would like them to do, makes it easier to train both dogs and humans.

Transferring the dog’s usual cue for jumping up, the arrival of a person, to a sit behaviour or other four-on-the-floor behaviour sorts one side of the equitation. But let’s train the human too.
We can teach the dog to sit when faced with a person with their arms folded across their chest.

To add a new cue, add it before the old one. In this case, fold your arms and say “sit”, reward when the dog sits. After a few repetitions, your dog will be sitting when you fold your arms.



You can choose any four-on-the-floor behaviour – it doesn’t have to be sit. You can replace jumping up and greeting with any preferred behaviour.
Albi is learning to go to his crate when a person enters the kitchen door, rather than jump up in excitement:

Clip link 

Millie just stands there – anything but jumping up!

Clip link

Practice anything but jumping up in different contexts:

Clip link

Clip link

Option 2 Lead on!

Just like greetings, getting ready for walkies can be a pretty exciting time for dogs, resulting in excitable behaviour.

This building and building excitement can pave the way for excitable and difficult to control behaviour out and about.

As always think, what would I prefer the dog to do?

Rearrange the environment:

Use food rewards or a stuffed toy to redirect your dog’s excitable behaviour while fitting his lead:



If you need help helping your dog to become more comfortable and handleable when fitting walking gear, see Day 17.

Stop access to rewards:

Truth be told, I am not a big fan of just ignoring unwanted behaviour. It’s likely that, for many dogs who are very excitable when they see their lead, that bringing the lead out, putting it away over and over in response to their behaviour, will likely cause their frustration to increase.

So, for that dog, I want to just get their lead on and go!

What would you prefer the dog to do?

Sit for lead on:

Show the dog the lead, ask for a sit. When the dog sits, toss the reward so that it’s easier to attach the lead, while he’s eating it.



Down on mat for lead on:

Step by step training plan here.





Option 3 Doorbell Games

Probably my favourite application of cue transfers is playing doorbell games. Teach your dog that the sound of the door is a cue to do some behaviour, such as go lie on your mat.

To rearrange the environment, you might try disabling or covering your door bell so that the dog doesn’t have reactions to the bell, further rehearsing that behaviour and slowing training.

Your dog, at this stage, probably has a strong emotional response to the sound of the doorbell.

We want to reduce the strength of that association, while helping him form a more positive association with the doorbell sound, and teach him a more appropriate alternative behaviour to do when he hears the doorbell.

This must be built very gradually and carefully, because his current response is so strong and may be distressing for him.

For a full covering of doors and greetings behaviour and planning, see our Christmas Bite on these topics and practice before you really need it!

Doorbell = Snuffle Party

Teach your dog that the doorbell signals a snuffle party! Instead of your dog running to the door, they run to you and their Sniffing Station to snuffle for treats; then you can bring your guests in calmly and quietly.

Establish a Sniffing Station with a snufflemat, a snuffle puzzle, or simply scattering treats on the floor, on a blanket or towel, or in their bed.

Practice in short sessions of just a minute or so at a time.

Begin working close to the door so your dog can quickly check that there’s nobody actually there. But as their comfort increases, you can move your Sniffing Station to the spot you want your dog to go to when the door bell sounds, such as another room, a confinement area, a crate or their bed.

Be exciting as you bound to their Sniffing Station – it’s a snuffle party after all!

Clip link

Use a recording of your door bell or a similar sounding bell. The one I use can be found here.

You gotta practice door management games before you really need them but they are simple to work into your daily routine and require only 30-60 seconds practice per day.

Formal Doorbell Games


Start with a recording of a neutral doorbell – one that he won’t have heard before and doesn’t associate with his door or guests coming in. There are a variety of doorbell sounds available on YouTube, for example, this search.
During training, use one of these consistently.

Level 1:

  • use a neutral doorbell recording
  • reward with high value rewards
  • play these training games in lots of different rooms

Stage 1:

  • play the doorbell recording
  • immediately feed a high value food reward to the dog
  • repeat 5-10 times per session

You must get your timing right for this to work. Don’t move toward the treat until after the doorbell sound has played.

When the dog predicts that the doorbell sound makes a treat happen you are ready for Stage 2. You might be able to tell that the dog has developed this association by testing him; play the doorbell sound when he is not looking or is in another room. He should come looking for his treat!

Stage 2:

  • play the door bell sound
  • cue the dog to “go to bed!
  • reward him when he is in the bed

Practice in short sessions of 5-10 repetitions. When he will go to his bed upon hearing the doorbell recording you are ready for level 2.

This clip shows the basic work required for this training exercise:

Level 2:

  • work exactly as you did for Level 1, except use a recording of your own door bell
  • use at a lowered volume if the dog has an aroused response to it

When the dog will go to his bed upon hearing the doorbell recording, move onto Level 3.

Clip link

Level 3:

  • work exactly as you did for Level 2, except have a familiar person ring the door bell
  • practice with the door open and in a spot that allows the dog see what’s going on; have the dog on lead

As your dog improves, you can close the door and have the familiar person outside and once happy with that you might be ready to add an unfamiliar person knocking or ringing!

Clip link

Option 4 Go to bed!

Sometimes, it’s important that our dogs are safe and confined during certain activities. Maybe you are injured and cant have your dog jumping up or getting under your feet; my favourite application of this is in baby prep. We can teach your dog to go to their bed or crate when you are carrying an infant (which starts out as a doll wrapped in a blanket).



Option 5 Taking Turns

Living with more than one dog can be tricky, especially when all the dogs are adults. Adult dogs are more likely to be competitive with one another, and squabbles among dogs who live together are often to do with access to resources.

We often tell off one dog if they aggress when another dog approaches. But, all we end up teaching that dog is, that unpleasant things happen when the other dog approaches.

Instead we can teach them that good things happen when the other dog is around.

We teach the dog that if their buddy gets a treat, they are about to get a treat too. This helps them feel better about proximity with the other dog and teaches them that they don’t need to compete…yummies are coming!

Contrary to popular belief, dogs don’t need to fight it out and you don’t have to ‘support the hierarchy’ (whatever that means!).

We will teach them that the presence of the other dog makes good things happen and that they will get a treat after their pal. No need to barge in, cause a squabble or lose out!


It’s more straight forward when the dogs are friendly with one another and haven’t had the opportunity to rehearse a lot of competitiveness.


Clip link

This is especially useful in groups of dogs:



If the dogs have a history of squabbling or competition, work with the dogs on either side of a barrier, for everyone’s safety.



Your challenge

Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!

Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂

We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!