Written by Ashton Aubuchon
Veteran Owned and Operated Business Owner of Command Performance K9 LLC
Retired Military Working Dog Handler-US Army
What is clear signals training?
If you have read my previous posts then you have probably seen the phrases “clear signals training,” and “clear communication channel” before. When it comes down to it, using clear signals training creates a clear communication channel. Since we now know clear signals are the action, and the clear communication channel is the result, let us talk about what that means.
When we say “clear signals training”, it essentially means using as little words as possible, with the absence of “white noise”, to communicate with your dog. White noise is a term used to describe unnecessary noises trainers or dog owners might use when working with their dog. An example of this would be an owner saying, “Come” to recall their dog, and then following that up with whistles and kissy noises to coax their dog back to them. When this extra noise is used, your recall command goes from one word (come), to whatever noise follows the command. This is all fine and dandy, until a dog needs to be recalled from a dangerous situation. If the dog is not used to having to respond to the initial command in training, they will not respond to it in a real world scenario. This is why the words we use and how we use them are not only important, but so is the consequence that follows them. When we can keep this process consistent, we create a communication channel the dog consistently understands.
Commands, markers, bridge words, and release words
When we look at this list of words, the thing they have in common is they are all used in clear signals training. Which if used correctly, leads to a clear communication channel. Each word plays a different role when utilizing clear signals training, but you need all four to complete the communication channel.
* Command: A word that lets your dog know a specific action you want them to take.
- Sit, down, come, place etc.
* Marker: A word used to let the dog know whether an action they did is right or wrong. A consequence (positive or negative) should follow this word. Especially in the beginning phases of training.
- Yes (a reward should follow this word)
- No (a correction should follow this word)
* Bridge word: A word used to let the dog know they may or may not be heading in the right direction, but the desired outcome has not yet been achieved.
- Good (keep doing what you are doing)
* Release word: A word used to let the dog know they are now allowed to go back to doing as they please…within reason of course. This word does not indicate a consequence is coming, but simply they no longer need to be conducting a specific command.
- Ok, release, free etc.
The clear communication channel
Now that we have laid down the foundation of clear signals training, let us see how it all works together. In this example, we are going to be using the “sit” command, and you are going to be playing the role of Skip’s owner. As Skip’s owner you decided to teach Skip how to sit. You tell Skip to, “sit”, and guide him into the position. As soon as Skip’s butt hits the ground, you mark the action with a, “yes,” and give Skip a treat. This process repeats until Skip is sitting as soon as the command is given, without assistance from the owner. At this point, we now know Skip knows what “sit” means. Because of this, we can start to hold Skip accountable and advance the command. In the next phase of training, you are working on the dog sitting, and maintaining the position for an extended period. You tell Skip to “sit,” and Skip does not sit. You say, “no” to indicate he did not do the right thing, lightly pop his collar (the correction), and repeat the “sit” command. This time Skip sits, and you tell him “good” to let him know that is what you wanted, and then give the “ok” command to release him before starting over. This time when you say, “sit” Skip immediately sits. Since Skip sat the first time you asked, you mark the action with a “yes,” and reward Skip with a treat. This just taught Skip that the right answer is to do the action the first time he is asked. You then say, “sit” to Skip again to reinforce the command, and let him know you want him to stay in position. From here, you proceed to create distance between you and Skip. As you do this, you periodically tell Skip, “good, sit,” to let him know he is doing a great job at exactly what you want him to be doing. After walking around Skip, you return to him. While standing in front of him you bend down, and say, “yes” to mark that he did what you wanted him to do. After the “yes” marker, you give Skip a reward and then tell him, “ok” to let him know he is released from training and free to roam his environment.
Although it was a simple task we trained in this example, the clear signals training used created a clear communication channel. This channel will transfer over to other scenarios. If your dog is barking at the door, and you have a correctional measure set in place your dog respects, you should be able to say, “no” and your dog should stop. Once your dog stops barking you can say, “good” to let them know that they did exactly what you wanted them to do. The key to this whole process is only saying a command once before a “yes” or “no” is given, and making sure you are consistent with your consequences. If a reward never follows the “yes” marker, then the “yes” marker will never truly mean anything. If a correction does not consistently follow the “no” marker, then the word “no” will not mean anything. This is why it is important to keep your communication simple and keep your consequences consistent.
If you want to avoid confusion and create a language between you and your dog you both understand, this is the proven method. Keep it simple, do not use white noise, be consistent with your consequences, and see the results for yourself.