Verbal cues (voice commands) and visual cues (hand signals) are two of the most common behavior cues for training. But did you know that any stimulus can be a cue for a particular behavior? 

I got the opportunity to experiment with an olfactory cue while enrolled in Karen Pryor Academy. It was exciting to teach Kuna the scent of rosemary as the cue for 'bow'. Three years later and he still knows the behavior like the back of!

On our Facebook page, I posted a video of the cue and behavior and got a lot of people asking, "Howdya do that!?"

So, I whipped up this easy-peezy video showing the steps!

You can view it on YouTube by clicking here:

Or watch the video below:

I've listed the steps under the video and provided more information about the training process. These steps are a basic outline. If you and your dog are new to clicker training, more steps may be required. 

Step 1. 

Train the behavior

Totes obvs, we use the clicker to train our behaviors 'round these parts. For the bow, we used 'luring' to achieve the behavior because it was one of the faster ways to get it. When using luring, understand that you add the extra step of having to 'fade the lure'. 

Step 2.

Fade the lure

What this means is: you have the dog follow the lure (or food, in this instance) so you can mark when they perform the behavior. But by using the lure, it's not the dog performing the behavior on their own - they're following your lure. That's why it's necessary to fade the lure out of the equation, making sure to move as slowly as your dog requires to be successful. 

Step 3. 

New cue + Old Cue

Our goal: pair the olfactory cue of rosemary with the behavior of bowing.

At this stage, our dog's perceived cue for the behavior of 'bow' is the lowering of our hand, which came from the lure in step one. 

To introduce a new cue, add it to the beginning of the sequence so your dog can identify the pattern:

Scent of rosemary + owner's hand lowers = bow = click/treat

Step 4. 

Fade the old cue.

Your dog will quickly realize that the scent of rosemary (olfactory cue) starts off the sequence. When you introduce the scent and they immediately bow (without the added cue of your hand), you know they are beginning to make this connection.

Step 5.

Cue discrimination

It's very important that your dog is interpreting the correct cue: the odor of rosemary. To prove this, we introduce different items with rosemary scent and items without the scent. Naturally, you'll want to keep track of which items have never been scented.

When you present the item without rosemary scent and your dog performs the bow, withhold the click/treat. I like to "beat them to the behavior" by presenting the item, then very quickly clicking before the dog has time to bow. This helps to communicate that in the absence of the scent, do nothing. 

At about 2:14, I introduce an item that was previously unscented but this time has scent. I should have clicked his first reaction: a slight bow. It's that slight hesitation...that moment where classical conditioning took over, smelled rosemary, and made him bow that I wanted to reinforce. But, being human, I erred and missed that opportunity. And you can see him start to think: "what should I be doing here??"

Thankfully, he tries again with a slight bow. And I was paying enough attention to mark it. The result: his very next behavior was a very confident bow and we're right back into the training!

Remember: ‘Almost’ is good enough in horseshoes, hand grenades...and clicker training!
— Eryka

AuthorEryka Kahunanui