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Four Rules of Cue and Action


Techniques Conditioning > Four Rules of Stimulus and Action

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There are four rules that you should seek to achieve when conditioning in situations where you are training for a particular action that should be completed following a given cue. When these are all reliably achieved, you can claim victory in having conditioned the action.

Reliability of command is of course important with animals. It can also be important with people, for example in situations where safety is important. The military also want commands to be fully instilled in their soldiers. A quite different situation is with musicians, who need to precisely play the music they are given and to follow exactly a conductor's cues.

1. Cue leads to action

When the cue reliably leads to the action being completed, every time, then clearly the cue has successfully been paired with the action.

It would seem that this is all you need to do but, as seen below, you need to ensure that this is the only way that the action will be completed.

2. Non-cue does not lead to action

When working with your subject, they may be keen to please you. This may lead to them jumping the gun and performing the action before you give the cue. If they do this, you may need to get them back to their original position, which may need a little ingenuity. For example if a dog sits before it is told to do so, you may put a bit of food on the floor so they have to stand up in order to eat it.

Subjects can also become anxious about what is asked of them and go through a whole repertoire of moves in case this is the one you want. This can happen in particular when they anticipate a reward, such as when a dog sees that you have some food with you.

3. Cue does not lead to other actions

The cue should not trigger any other action other than the one that you have conditioned the subject to perform. While there may be more than one cue for a given action (for example a word and a hand signal), there should be one and only one action for any given cue.

4. Other cues do not lead to action

While you may have more than one cue paired to an action, other cues that are not intended to lead to the action should not do this. This can accidentally happen when you have a sequence of actions, but with each requiring a cue. For example if you want a dog to lie down and you start by getting it to sit, then the command 'sit' may lead to them sitting then lying down, or even going straight for the floor.

See also

Cue, Pairing


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