Fluency simply means the ability to display or maintain a behaviour with speed and accuracy in any given environment. I was saying to my husband just today that I can sit and write really complicated things, regardless how much our dogs are barking because he’s answering the door to someone. My writing skill is fluent.
Fluency is relevant to all behaviour, whether yours or your dog’s when you are teaching something new. It applies to both of you. For example if your communication and coaching skills are fluent, your dog is likely to understand you better and learn easier. When we observe our dog’s behaviours and how fluent they are we can consider precision, latency and speed.
Being fluent in one or two good choices will really help your dog to cope in the world, particularly if things out there worry them. Let’s take a look at one of them.
A dog who learns to focus on you and become really fluent at that choice will be more likely to cope when something scary happens in the distance and eventually nearby. Focus on you is excellent because it will help your dog feel calm and stop the wandering mind and eyes which can often fuel a stress reaction. To focus they just need to look at you when asked and maintain that look until you release them. Most dogs will happily look at their bonded human and even more so if they get a reward for it. The odd one or two might find eye contact on cue quite intimidating and it’s worth remembering that.
Teaching a focus cue is relatively simple and so much easier with a marker because the moment your dog looks into your face can be so fleeting in the beginning, that to get a treat in their mouth at that time is almost impossible.
When your dog can look at you directly for a mark and reward, you can add the cue. It’s a good idea to wait until the dog is predictable when looking to you for the mark – then sneak the cue in, bringing it forward gradually. Next it’s a case of making that choice fluent.
Adding precision means you consider the overall look of the position the dog is in when they look to you. It might not matter to you what your dog looks like at this point, as look as he is looking at you. Or you might want to eventually sharpen his position over time.
Then you can work on sharpening your dog’s mental recognition of the cue, sometimes there’s a lag between a cue being given and a dog’s understanding – this is known as latency. Sharpening up the response relies on you watching your dog carefully and motivating him hugely so the moment he suspects the cue is coming out of your mouth – he’s looking for that mark and reward. Finally speed means that when your dog has understood the cue, the time it takes between understanding and responding with the behaviour. This too is often linked to motivation but sometimes also to distractions and/or confidence issues. That’s when we need to work on generalisation, which is a subject for another day.