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What Is An INDICATOR Sound?

By Chris Bach and The Third Way – The Next Generation in Reinforcement Training

The INDICATOR sound can be a verbal “Yes!” or the “click” of a clicker device. It is necessary for the INDICATOR sound to be salient, novel and exclusive. The sound is meant to signal something to a dog.

The Verbal INDICATOR

The verbal INDICATOR of choice for trainers using THE THIRD WAY is the word “Yes!” This word is recommended because it accurately verbalizes what is on the trainer’s mind. “Yes!” (“You”, dog, did the right thing!”). Words such as “Good”, “Right” and “Ready” are less accurate.

“Good” is a word that dogs hear very often. Generally, the owner is not intending to signal any information to the dog. Rather it is a term of endearment. When an attempt is made to change it to a signal word, it becomes confusing to the dog and owner as to when it is a signal and when it is just affectionate chatter.

“Right” is a valuation word. It is too closely linked in the mind with morals and moral judgments. It is more difficult to use this word automatically and with enthusiasm on a spontaneous basis. The INDICATOR sound needs to be genuine and exuberant not contrived and halfhearted!

“Ready” does not verbalize how the trainer feels when the dog guesses correctly. The trainer has to think too hard about consistently using the word “Ready” because it is a concocted word, not sincere and spontaneous. The mouth wants to speak what the “gut” feels, not what the mind reasons it should say.

Also, look in a mirror and say the word “Yes”. It automatically puts a big smile on the face and a slant to the eyes. Both of these facial features are more pleasing to a dog than the grimace that remains after saying other possible INDICATOR words such as “Good”, “Right” or “Ready”.

The “Click” From a Clicker Device as the INDICATOR

The click sound from a clicker device is a very excellent and accurate indicator.

A click sound is superior to a word. No word is as novel of a sound to a dog as a click. This quality makes it more salient and noticeable to the dog.

Also, dogs desensitize to verbalization because people speak often when around dogs. Most of the time the words are not intending to signal anything to the dog. It then becomes difficult to convince a dog to listen for a word as a signal. The click of a clicker can be easily taught and is a consistent and accurate signal. It is unique, unexpected and consistently predicts something good will follow, thus guaranteeing salience in a way that words cannot.

Use of a clicker device always improves timing. Hands respond quicker than the mouth. Because words come from the mind and the reflex to click comes from the “gut”, the click is always more genuine, spontaneous, timely and accurate. Also, many times the mouth is already occupied when the verbal “Yes” would be appropriate because trainers, especially inexperienced ones, have a tendency to chatter nervously when training.

On the flip side, there are some drawbacks to a clicker device. One difficulty is that it is sometimes impossible to use a clicker when reinforcement and management tools are occupying the hands. Also a clicker device may not ALWAYS be available when an INDICATOR is necessary. Therefore, it is a good idea to be able to use either a device or a verbal INDICATOR. Although a device is more salient and accurate, a verbal is always available and does not require the use of a hand.

What Should the INDICATOR Signal to the Dog?

FIRST, the INDICATOR signals that reinforcement is guaranteed. An accurate way to describe this is to say the INDICATOR is a “promise of reinforcement”. Teaching the connection between INDICATOR and guaranteed reinforcement is easy. Dogs seek reinforcement so a signal that accurately predicts it is learned very quickly. It usually requires three or four trials of the INDICATOR sound immediately by reinforcement for the dog to become an expert about what the INDICATOR predicts!

Once a dog knows the connection between the sound and reinforcement, the dog will start to listen for the sound.

SECOND, the trainer teaches the dog that hearing the INDICATOR and being reinforced is contingent upon commitment to a cued response. This is taught as soon as the trainer is aware that the dog is attentive and listening for the “promise sound” or INDICATOR.

When the INDICATOR is being taught to a puppy that is a TOTALLY clean slate, THIRD WAY trainers use the “Name Game” as the vehicle to teach this contingency.

If the INDICATOR is being taught to a dog that knows even one cue, that cue is used to teach the contingency.

The known cue is used to solicit commitment to a response. When the dog accurately commits to responding to the cue, that event is marked by the INDICATOR sound and immediately reinforced.

THIRD, from this point on the INDICATOR becomes an Event Marker.

During the teaching and proofing processes:

* Accurate responses or response approximations are the only events that will be marked.
* Accurate responses or response approximations are also the events that are always marked.

FOURTH, the INDICATOR will signal the dog that the reinforcement is now available to them. This particular feature of the INDICATOR is exclusive to THE THIRD WAY. No other method of training uses reinforcements as distractions during the PROOFING process the same as THE THIRD WAY uses them. Because of this, it is imperative that dogs understand when the reinforcement is available to them and when they should ignore it and perform.

A magical thing happens when the dog learns when reinforcement should be ignored and when it is available. Ultimately, potential rewards can be right under the dog’s nose and the dog is still able to learn and/or perform! Dogs trained THE THIRD WAY can be TAUGHT in more stimulating and distracting venues than those not proofed this way. But most importantly, dogs proofed THE THIRD WAY are better prepared than dogs trained any other way to overcome the unexpected and surprising events that occur during competitions or on outings away from home.

(c) THE THIRD WAY ~ Chris Bach ~ 2002 - 2003. All rights reserved.