Location is Their Cue

by | May 2, 2024

dog sitting at a distance

We begin teaching the dog to go to a target, such as a mat or platform and in this process our focus is on the outcome: the dog can stand on the object or settle down. At the same time this learning is happening the dog is also noting the location: where in this room, in the house, relative to the food-machine (you).

In fact the location may be more salient than the actual behaviour we think we are teaching. This will be apparent when we move the target-object to a new location and see a loss in fluency or hesitation and some serious head scratching.

The dog will be asking: “is this a test? Do I go where we learned this or where it is now?”

We can add more conflict when we actually use this target-object to cue a dog to transfer the learned behaviour to a new location. We teach the settle on the mat by our side and then pop the mat in the back of the car. Dog logic may well implode at this point: “settle at her feet by the car or should I wait for her to climb into the boot with me?”

To prevent location being the dominant, or only learning, ensure micro changes to the location of the object every session.  Make the object the dominant cue, not the location. Make the location fluid and unfixed and the constat cue the object. This applies to your relative position as well. 

Not surprisingly dogs are VERY aware of their location where rewards occur.

– The dog that can remember exactly where that rabbit popped out from, or was lost: delight or trauma. 

– That location where the bird scarer went off.

They can map their world of places where good stuff occurs and places to steer clear of. This is a critical part of being a top-notch, capable survivor. Without it they could not safely negotiate their environment and stay alive. Sadly we over-manage the dog to the extent that this survival skill is considered invalid.

After several years in Search and Rescue I have no doubts that the dog ALWAYS knows where the car is parked and given the chance can find their way back, not only backtracking their own pathway, but also cutting across untravelled ground.

We need to respect that the location is often the dominant navigation point for This is Where Rewards Happen.

This can also be a mobile point in relation to something that is not fixed. If your left hand is the one to deliver food the dogs will orientate to your left side. If you deliver food when the dog is in front then this is the place the dog will choose when behaviour is marked or cued.

The Sit Good Sit is a classic example: we teach this in front of us and when cued in a different location: at a distance or by our side, the dog travels to the location where the reward was delivered to completed the behaviour.

This dog is then labelled disobedient for not sitting when it was told: a fallout of human focus on the obedience of the dog not the learning of the dog.

Location is a cue

When a location has no reward history: the dog has never received food, pleasure or a mark in that location then the learned behaviours are unlikely to transfer to that location, especially when they are reward associated. 

Unfortunately the protocol to “take behaviour on the road”, (forced generalisation) so that it happens in multiple locations is called “proofing”. A terrible term used in material testing to establish the fail point. We do not proof dogs or the learning, we should never be seeking the fail point.

Generalisation is a natural maturation of learning, it will occur when the learning is being explored in new situations. Regard generalisation as voluntary, a suggestion, not something we should coerce, even with food.

We can say a behaviour HAS generalised not decide when it WILL generalise. If you want that behaviour to occur in new places first establish that new place as a reward hot spot. In the future if you want your dog to respond to cues at a distance, a new location, then place the reward source at that location AND reward at that location. Puppy class should not be seeking to inspire new learning if that individual pup is not food seeking: that would be a clear indicator of feeling unsafe.

In the future if you want your dog to respond to cues at a distance, a new location, then place the reward source at that location AND reward at that location.

Reward sources are navigation points for the dog and quite pertinent if they are familiar with the mark as the beginning of you travelling to them, at that location (next to the refrigerator, biscuit tin, food pot). I would suggest it is quite a Cool Thing for a dog to call their person TO their location instead of the fixation of perfectly performed robot recalls where the dog must do the travelling.

Key Reading

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.

A Cue or not a cue?

With thoughtful planning and a good understanding of the relevance of antecedent selection we can teach the dog the skills of sorting the wheat from the chaff, finding the bones of the exercise. This skill is critical to being able to distinguish between distractions, which are just cues for an alternative reward opportunity, and cues which signify a guarantee of success.

The Value of Experience

The non-experienced, or current generation of imposters, have attended a course, read a book, got a certificate and have yet to gain experience to deepen their knowledge or understanding of the subject, protocol, method …

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.

And Why Can’t He Refuse?

I bristle at the insistence that a dog will assent to any request we make if they understand what we’re asking and if the rewards we offer are of sufficient value

A Family of Multiple Dogs

Another addition is not just an extra bed and bowl. It is important to build a home that is healthy, content and well-balanced.

Science Doesn’t Have All the Answers

We lean on science in our efforts to bridge the gap as though it provides the answers to how things should be rather than describing how things are understood.

Why add fun?

When an activity gives intrinsic pleasure we do not need to add fun.

Do you see what I see

Doing better is the reward from doing the work. This work needs to be the right work at the right time with the right intent done in the right way.

Back to Basics?

The word “basic” is often derided as synonymous with “shallow,” but in its origins it is the very opposite: foundational, profound, supportive.

Top Training


Preparing before you train and the final check list

More than words

We expect our dogs to understand the meaning of words and signals, but if you have ever worked with computers you will know that what you say doesn’t always turn into an actionable response.

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.

Going Shopping

This is a joint travelling adventure. It completely resets the learning and can easily extend the reinforcement process.

A Day of Learning

A no-training day does not mean he gets a lazy day lying idly in the sun. Learning is still happening and this is significant and important for his development.

Surprising Puppy

Surprising Puppy. With obnoxious moments. After introducing the obnoxious puppy as a youngster I am knocked over by the Delightful Young Man he is turning into……

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

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.

Remote lures

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

Release cue or stay cue

Many of us begin with teaching sit or down, and this is one of the earliest experiences of training with reinforcement. Is the sit, or down, going to be a terminal behaviour, or a temporary position?


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