Our house is surrounded by a five-foot fence, and we drive through the gate each time we enter or exit. The effort of stopping the car, getting out to open the gate, pulling through, getting out to close the gate, and then driving on might seem tiresome, but it’s become a part of our routine.
We always remind visitors to close the gate behind them. Today, however, our guest was leaving just a few minutes before we were departing ourselves, and so we said he could leave the gate open behind him. A few moments later, my husband and I got into the car and started down the drive.
We passed through the gate and kept going. I cleared my throat. “Um, husband, are you going to stop for the gate?”
“Oh!” He’d forgotten entirely about the gate!
That’s okay, I told him, adopting my Behavior Analyst voice. Clearly the cue to close the gate was not the open gate itself, but the preceding act of opening the gate. He had a very clearly defined behavior chain, but the cues weren’t the ones which might seem most obvious.
Sometimes we think behaviors should be obvious or routine or “built-in.” But the most reliable cued behavior in the world isn’t going to happen if we don’t perceive the expected cue. For example, I might expect my dog to sit automatically at a door, but the cue may actually be my expectant glance. If I don’t look down as I open the door, the dog could slip out the door, never having received the cue to sit and wait. It’s important to know what we’ve actually trained.
It occurs to me now that Kathy Sdao did an entire workshop on this topic at this year’s ClickerExpo*, testing cues and reasons why an animal might not respond to a cue. Great stuff.
What behaviors do you expect from your dog which might have different cues entirely?