The Positive Interrupter Cue

What is a positive interrupter cue?  Well, it is a cue that, when used correctly, will redirect your pup’s attention away from a bad behavior.  You probably know by now that yelling “no!” or “stop!” rarely works and often just scares your dog.

This is where the positive interrupter cue comes in.  First, you need a word or a sound for the cue.  Here are some examples (should be a fund word or sound):  Woohoo!  Treat!  Kissy noise!  Tongue click!  Cookie! Etc.  The idea is that when you firmly say the interrupter it should not scare your dog but grab their attention away from whatever they are doing, usually a bad behavior.  A lot of pet owners try to use their pup’s name, but dogs hear their name so often, they often ignore it.  So try one of the above.

Once you have selected the positive interrupter cue, it’s time to break out the highest value treats available.  Please see my other blogs on what exactly is a high value treat.  In this example, let’s use boiled chicken.  With a high value treat like boiled chicken, I promise you will get faster response time from your dog when initiating the positive interrupter cue.

Always start indoors when teaching a new command, or in this case, a cue.  The positive interrupter cue, in short, breaks your pup from doing a behavior, usually a bad one.  Once you initiate the cue, wait for your dog to do something else, such as sniffing the ground or looking at you.  As soon as that happens, mark it with a “yes!” and some chicken.  Wait for your dog to take her eyes off of you and then say the cue again.  Again, wait for her to do something else like sniff the floor or look at you, mark it with a “yes!” and give her chicken.  Keep doing this for at least 10 more times and then take a break, and then do it again for 10 more.

Fast forwarding, when your dog starts to catch on to the cue/yes/treat most of the time, start using the positive interrupter cue throughout the day.  If your pup decides to window bark, use the positive interrupter cue, wait for her to redirect her attention, then “yes!”, then treat.  At this point, if your dog is not near you when the bad behavior happens, say the cue and then drop the treat on the floor near you so your dog has to move away from what was causing the bad behavior.

Now it’s time to take it outside.  Assuming she is getting really good with the cue inside, leash up your pup and head outside.  Practice for at least 4 to 5 minutes a day while your pup is leashed.  Staying on leash will keep her more focused and stop her from getting distracted.  Then, once she has a high probability of responding to the cue on leash, take it off and practice 4 to 5 minutes a day unleashed.

Let’s fast forward a little more.  Now your dog has got it – she responds inside, she responds outside on leash and now she is responding to the positive interrupter cue with high probability outside off leash.  You are ready for real-life scenarios – window barking, barking at noises she can’t see, rough play, digging, jumping, whatever the bad behavior, start using the cue.  Remember to wait for another behavior that’s good or neutral, then mark and reward.  If she goes back to the bad behavior, cue it up again, but if she goes back to the bad behavior a third time, cue it up but then remove your dog from the area.

One last note, timing is everything.  When you use the positive interrupter cue, be watching carefully for your pup’s next good/neutral behavior (looking at you) and mark it quickly (yes!) and reward.  Enjoy!


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