Count on Me: Building Trust with Antecedents

When we try to teach an animal that icky things like nail trims, putting on a harness, or scary men in hats predict good things like yummy treats, it can be an uphill battle. This is because the antecedents in those situations often elicit conflicted emotions and set the stage for unhelpful anxieties, causing a kind of “poison cue” effect. In this 45-minute Session, we explore a simple yet powerful way to jump-start counter conditioning programs. By turning non-aversive stimuli such as verbal cues, hand gestures, mats, or targets, into OH-BOY!-elicitors, we can create predictable rituals that the animal learners can count on. We talk briefly about the two different types of antecedents and look at video examples of this technique applied to common issues: handling desensitization, resource guarding, and reactivity. We also highlight some pitfalls of using “informational” cues too soon in your training set-ups. When patterns are clear and consistent, trust grows. Perhaps the best reason of all to use ritualized antecedents is that they set the stage for handlers and pet owners alike to interact in ways that feel safer and more predictable.

Sarah Owings

Sarah Owings is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner. She specializes in the practical application of behavioral principles to help transform the lives of fearful, shut down, and over-the-top dogs. As an international speaker and regular contributor to online training forums, she is known for her innovative approaches to tough behavior problems and her compassionate and insightful teaching. Sarah has written for Clean Run magazine on topics such as stimulus control, release cues, and toy-related cues. She is a member of the ClickerExpo faculty, an instructor for Cyber Scent Online, and an advisor to the Glendale Humane Society in Los Angeles.

Sarah is also an avid nose work competitor, currently competing at both the Elite and Iron Dog levels with her Labrador retriever, Tucker. Tucker was the recipient of the Harry Award in 2015 and has the distinction of titling at each level of NACSW without a single miss. In Sniffing Dog Sports, he has won High in Trial in both Advanced and Excellent divisions and has earned a HIT at Iron Dog. Tucker's trained final response for nose work, a hover-freeze at source, was taught with a marker signal, following clicker training principles.