Cue Seeking is Connection

by | Mar 13, 2024

Gordon Setter seeking information

Connection is commonly becoming the replacement catchall for obedience: where the dog is taught a pseudo connection with lured focus; eyeball to eyeball training and permission seeking behaviours such as the sit for everything.

Connection is very individual and to be authentic we have to observe, slow down, understand our dogs and meet them where they are. There will be times when they cannot connect with the energy we would like or at all, or to use the 1966 terminology they are “disobedient”.

These will be situations:

where they are overwhelmed by too many stimulus requiring their attention and processing; this may be a world of potential rewards or potential threats

where they are too tired to mentally engage with anything but one foot in front of the other

where the predator brain dominates and has yet to learn how to work as part of a group

where they are surrounded by events or situations that are unknown or associated with a fearful history

when they are unwell

In these situation you will be able to observe their inability to connect, cue seek, and need to progress to respectful management.

Cue Seeking

This is much more than just looking at you. There is a clear sense of enquiry. This may vary from “are you doing OK?” to “are you going to throw that ball / give me that piece of toast?” or “can that unemployed hand to give my ears a scritch?”

Our dog is looking for information and invariably that is information that can lead to rewards of their choice. Are we going to stop and look at clouds or carry on with the walk?

Puppies have that very intense cue seeking as they are continually learning about us. 

When we are buzzing with a desire to interact the cue seeking with be stimulated by the presence of the potential reward. In a fast training situation we will see cue seeking occur on the consumption of the food: “is there more?” How can I earn it?

This is quite different from a dog that is just watching us or checking in. These are much less intense forms of seeking information closer to checking that nothing has changed and we are carrying on as before. A more relaxed connection: “I’m OK, you’re OK”.

Merrick just watching me take the photo. I do not see cue seeking as her current state is EXACTLY the reward she is seeking. 

Space to Cue Seek

When we present the stimulus of a focus on learning: the pattern of preparation; chopping treats to placing objects; the scent of those special rewards, the environment of previous learning etc., we deliberately give the dog space to choose to learn and space to let us read what they are going through. We are learning about them: their processing patterns, their individual way of exploring, how they move when this learning is happening, when this pattern is familiar and when it changes pace. It has a topography that we can recognise.

By using the three points: us, reward source and reward consumption we can be confident in the evidence when we observe their desire to seek information from us. They become open to information and we know they are seeking rewards.

Learning, although a complex process, is about seeking more and better rewards.

In this triangle that opens up cue seeking, we can begin to see the spaces between and do not assume connection by luring or wearing food but connection by desire.

Here you can see a Young Merrick with a very clear desire for that chicken just by her nose. The lid is loosely covering the option to help herself and her learning history prompts her to cue seek to me with much enquiry as to how to earn that chicken. Once she can make that connection Person will go fetch her reward.

This is just a short distance which can be enlarged with experience. It gives us clear evidence of their learning.

We begin to appreciate that the reward systems are multi layered:

There will be pleasure from:

consuming a portion of food

being able to repeat that consumption where a growing familiarity gives pleasure in itself

anticipation of that pleasure: “I know what is going to happen and I can rely on it”

being able to control access to the rewards is a reward in itself: our dogs will activate us into the process of collection and see our shared enjoyment

being able to control the speed of this process: the dog is given space in these specific conditions to feel their own way through the learning, not being told/lured what to do, how to do it or the speed of next, next, next.

Our time in this classroom may begin with hesitation or uncertainty but as we see their learning get stronger the understanding gets stronger. We are both learners.

Cue Seeking is a meter of Connect-ability

Can the dog connect at this moment in these conditions?

Does the dog perceive the available rewards and seek connection to enable access to those rewards?

This can be as complex as finding the fresh scent of a rabbit to follow but knowing they will need us with the spade to dig out that rabbit or lasso the squirrel out of the tree. 

We want to build a connection from gaining and seeking those rewards as an activity we do together not a solo activity that puts us into conflict.

Looking for potential situations where cue seeking can be asked as a question before activity begins:

When you walk into a new environment or arrive and get out the car your dog may need time to assess the environment before they can cue seek. We ask our questions by being still, our poised-standing, giving them time, letting them scan and become comfortable, assess the potential rewards or threats and then seek information from us as to how those rewards will be gained. It may take less than a second it may take twenty.

The reward may be going over to the nearest bush for a sniff and pee.

The reward may be clipping on the line to go tracking or setting off to explore

The reward may be taking the toy out of the pocket opening the commencement of games

The reward may be a comforting stroke and ear massage

The reward may be a reduction of space as we close the gap between us and the dog.


There will be times where the dog is going to struggle to connect and we need to acknowledge those moments and not ask the question but use management with care to avoid a full disconnect.

If the connect-ability is low or absent then we will need to be disciplined and avoid asking for heroic listening skills, perfect performance or the dog that we imagine.

We can always trust that our dogs will strive to connect but we must also be cognisant of not ignoring their efforts when we are not paying attention.

Now we begin to look for cue seeking opportunities that we did not have the eyes for previously.

We can always trust that our dogs will strive to connect but we must also be cognisant of not ignoring their efforts when we are not paying attention.

Key Reading

Construction or suppression

Looking at the way the behaviour is carried out is the most important element, and that is the product of all the considerations.

Play Health Check

When we look at play or food delivery as an ACTIVITY we share the same mindset as the dog: is there pleasure to be experienced?

Chasm opening up?

The more I see “sit, down, come, stay heel” as the essential basics the more I am moving further away from the general view of living with dogs.

The Answers Await Discovery

The idea that we’re responsible for our dogs’ learning might well seem strange when we consider how we conceptualise “training:”

Don’t Let Them Learn

Becoming aware that we share our lives with premier learners, dogs, is about saving you frustration, despair, anxiety and endless hours further down the road.

Shaping by rewards

When I see a dog showing a behaviour that is heading towards potential conflict, my first question is “what rewards are available?”

Since the Dawn of Dog Training

The old joke reminds us that the only thing dog trainers can agree on is that their training method in the best one. It becomes increasingly difficult to know which method is “right” and whether it will suit the dog, the situation and trainer’s skills.

Heartbeat of living with dogs

I like to regard a “teacher of dogs” as someone who meets dogs in their world and teaches them how to be their best whilst living alongside us in our world.

When we train a dog it grows

Most training starts from necessity. Management is a necessity but it usually benefits all parties by a reduction of conflict. Are they expanding their skills to benefit us or for their benefit?

The Experienced Dog

Knowing your dog has receive sufficient preparation does not mean every eventuality, but a range of different conditions so that when the unexpected happens they will draw on their skills and solve the issue.

Top Training

Luring: Hand lures

Learning hand-lure skills, Collect the food, engage, follow, feed.

Obnoxious Puppy

The delight of your new puppy is probably going to last a few weeks, maybe four if you are lucky. When 12 weeks old hits, and you will feel a slam, the Delight is going to demonstrate ungrateful, obnoxious traits.

One dog watching

The other dog working
or ….how to train the spectators to quietly rest and watch whilst you work, play, teach a single member of the group

Stop doing that ….

Can we teach an effective Cease That Behaviour? Absolutely. We can teach that positively, without harm, and we should teach them the skills of stopping that and doing this instead.

Nose Target. No thanks

Nose target is a popular behaviour taught to many dogs, and other animals. It seems easy to teach and have practical application, but it is often not such a pleasant experience for all dogs. There are many other options available that give the same practical benefit, without the unpleasant extremes.

Evidence of learning

When we use the words “teach” or “train” child, person or dog, the operative term implies that the process is under the ownership of the teacher or trainer. What your teacher thinks you have learned may not be what you actually learned.

Duration: sustaining movement

Continuing and maintaining a specific movement

Remote lures

Lures at a distance, separated from hands, pockets . Using reward stations, patterns, containers

Not all lures contain food

“the direct use of the reinforcer to elicit the behaviour”
This should always be foremost in our mind, in that many alternatives lures are available.

Duration or is it Breakfast in Bed?

Teaching duration has become a very muddied understanding or what it is and how to teach it. This is partly due to how we use words that are the same but have entirely different meanings.


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