Late last year I ran a ‘clarity check’ for Momentum and me as an agility team. You can read how I did this clarity check on my post “Does your dog have a CUE… or NO Clue?“. One of the things I reviewed was the verbal cues I use and the tone of the cues.
There are many scientific papers referencing what dogs hear as cues. One paper that I found a few years ago made the conclusion that dogs actually respond better to tones than they do to words. You might say that I leave no tone unturned in my research. As the sport of agility grows and evolves, we owe it to our dogs to grow and evolve as trainers and handlers, and as educators for our students.
Paying attention to the tone of your cues is not just for agility. It can be for family pets or any dog sport. Are the cues you use distinct enough to give your dog clarity? Do those cues have value and a good association for your dog?
I write down all the verbal cues I use for my dogs, and before I introduce a new cue I check the list and evaluate the tone of the cue and where I am using it for my dog. This is a simple exercise that anyone can do. A cue we would all want to be distinct for our dogs is our recall cue, so that could go on your list. Include all the cues you know that you give to your dog.
Hearing The Sirens
We humans respond to tones too. Think of driving and hearing a siren. It’s very distinct. You don’t have to think about it. When you hear that siren, you start looking to pull over as you know there is an emergency vehicle coming through. The sound of a siren is unmistakeable. It doesn’t blend in with the “blah blah, blah, blah” of everyday life.
We have all sorts of things in our lives that have distinct tones to alert us (the ring tone on our phones, the beeps from social media, the gadgets we have in our home). When you hear these sounds you know immediately what each sound means. And that’s what effective tones do for our dogs.
If you are doing dog sports, it is critical to review your cues from time to time and before you introduce a new one. Pay close attention to how you deliver the cue. The video below is a short clip of me running through some of my agility cues so you can listen to the tone and delivery.
Here’s how to do a cue tone evaluation for agility. You can do the same no matter what sport you do and for your everyday life cues.
- Write down all your verbal cues you presently use in agility. Include a brief description of the cue and the tone.
- Using your video camera or a voice recorder, record the way you say your cues. Many mobile devices have memo recorders.
- Play the recording back and note the clarity of these tones.
- If you have training / trialling footage, review your footage to hear the tone of your cues. In this footage are your cues clear, and are they the same as you noted on the evaluation sheet?
- Next, review your recorded verbal cues. Can you hear a difference in your tone when using different verbal cues? If you can’t hear a difference, consider your dog will not be able to.
Your tone evaluation can help you become a student of your own cues. Each cue you have should be a very distinctive prompt for your dog’s agility behaviours. Are the cues clear to you? If you are interested in the paper I referenced, click here for “Domestic Dogs Use Contextual Information and Tone of Voice when following a Human Pointing Gesture”.
Let me know in the comments what you discovered in your tone evaluation.
If you like dog agility, then you’re going to LOVE what we’ve got planned coming up at the beginning of February. There will be lots of fun, lots of learning and did I mention lots of fun? To join in, you can jump into our Free Dog Agility Facebook Group and stay tuned. If you are not on Facebook, don’t worry, you can join in and we will let you know when we start the party.
Today I am grateful for scientific research and all we can learn to be at our best for our dogs.
Interesting I don’t know if I’ve used them differenty I think there might be a difference in my tone or volume but not a hundred percent sure than Susan I ll try to notice
Thank you, I am going to try this with my cues and adjust them as needed. Question, one of my dogs is deaf; could you give advise somewhere about giving a deaf dog clear cues in agility? She is watching well but sometimes loses connection on the course.
Saw this with my Welsh terrier when she came back after an injury. She would not leave the start line when released. It took me a week to realize my tone had changed since I had been training my younger boy. Same word for both, different tones. Easy to fix once I figured it out. But it surely was funny since we used to struggle with her holding a start line as a younger dog.
This is new to me! Never thought about tone or inflection! 😊
I have a little story on this. It is subtle, but made a difference in my dog. She wouldn’t “down” on the table in the ring. Anywhere else, but not in the ring. Finally, a trainer friend of mine said “are you saying it differently?” I didn’t think I was, but when I really paid attention, I was saying it differently in the ring. When I focused and made sure I said it the same as out of the ring, voila, she’s starting to down on the table again. I didn’t realize how much effect my tone had on that command.
Watched this on tones THANKYOU!!!
Great way to explain and get this into my head about tones. When I use a clicker for new behaviours my dog literally lights up he loves it and maybe it is because it is so clear to him when he gets it correct.
The explanation about the sirens is great and will help me to be able to explain, to those folk who mock the clicker, much clearer. Thanks a lot Susan again!
Former student, ‘Say Yes’ programme
I used different tones or silly sound with my voice during games. It really help my dog to clarify what I wanted. And my silly sound for the games, really triggers him to play even more. But I never thought to write or record a list of the different sound I do. That would be weird and interesting at the same time. Thanks you for the idea Susan;)
Maybe I don’t have clarity! or understand the meaning of “tones”…
Are we talking about tones or rhythm?
In SG’s video, after listening to it 5 times, I clearly hear different rhythmic deliveries but not a lot of tonal variation…
An example of different rhythms: staccato (n-n-n-n)or long drawn out (heeeere) but only slight differences in (what I think of as) tone (lower or higher notes…as in: do-ra-me-fa-so…)
For example “heeeeere” starts lower and goes up a couple notes at the end…that I get, but some of the other cues seem more…um ..monotone to me.
-seeking clarity..possibly I’m “tone def”🤔
Yes Jackie, technically it is not the “tone” alone which differentiates those cues to my dogs but rather the tone along with the melodic interval that together makes one cue different from the other for my dogs as comparison to just
Jump—Frame- Tunnel etc.
I loved what you shared and gave me results.
Very interesting! There is also some interesting research on Canine Hemispheric specialization as well. Some research suggests the “right” brain responds to to words and the “left” brain responds to tones.
In horses, the right side is the “Flight/Fear” side of the brain and the left is the “thinking” side.
I’m not sure if it’s the same for dogs. (I’m going to research this further as well)
Because if tones speak to the left “thinking” side, then that may contribute to clarity for the dog.
I was familiar with pitch and innotation affecting cues, but the tones take it to another level.
Thank you for bringing awareness of this ! Kathleen
I love how their is always more to learn and strive to master about dog training while following your programs and blog posts! Thank you!
I have a 5 year old BC that is my first agility dog.. We train at Morgan Hill Dog Sports. Last year it hit me that the verbals are so critical since my dog is so far ahead of me. We recently took a rear cross clinic from Moe. She said is you need to pick a rear cross word. At my weekly training class LAURA is always telling me is use your verbals.. From the beginning Vici has instilled Verbals in training and trialing.
Listening to your verbals I noticed that mine need some more pazaaz. When I say Tunnel and Teeter they sound the same… Now it’s time to overhaul mine keeping the word the same but change the tempo.. Thanks for the blog..
And Contact Point’s GROOVY Legit
Hi. I found out that my collie works better on certain cue words which have a certain tone to them so gave a lot of thought to my cues and re named a couple as my collie was struggling to get a high rate of success when given the cues but that all improved with the new tone cue words. I am not sure I could work just on sounds as it would require me to remember each one and make that tone sound but it is very interesting and perhaps being able to learn a few tones for moves that I used the most would be quicker to get the cue out to my dog and do able for me, I will look forward to more on this subject with an open mind and interest .
So complex but interesting! I don’t know where to start. I am not very vocal at all. I laugh and I cheer when we succeed and when we don’t we simply try again. I am very new at this whole concept. For me it is a question of, where does one start?
Hi Louise, we would love for you to join us for Susan’s next training series. Susan always shares so much to help.
There are also further blog posts to assist, here are two that are good to review.
Dog Training Question ~ When Do I Add a Cue?
Three Different Types of Verbal Markers in Dog Training
Mind blown. This makes so much sense.
Awesome Susan !!!
Super, as always, Susan! Context is everything with our dogs, just as it is with us. Why would we think otherwise? I wonder how many sequences I’ve messed up by cueing “out of tone”? Plenty, I’ll bet!
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I only half understood this, but describing the way we hear sirens and tones in our life has made it crystal clear. I know I have cues that must sound the same to my dog.