This year I got to go to ClickerExpo and it was an amazing learning experience. Organised by the Karen Pryor academy, this conference runs twice a year in the USA. There was a myriad of excellent speakers and four parellel sessions so it was difficult to decide who to go and listen to but all of the speakers were at a Q & A session at the end where the topic of cues was discussed.
Kathy Sdao said that clear consistent cueing is the best thing we can do for our animals and that less precise cues were like music with static. One of the speakers ( I think it might have been Karen Pryor herself) went so far as to say that clear cues were a welfare issue!
Ken Ramirez, of the Shedd Aquarium described how they had trained whales to do 2 behaviours that can be elicited by visitors to the aquarium: a right hand wave is a cue to spin while a two-handed open/close means ‘talk’. Visitors are clearly not animal trainers and their interpretations of a right hand wave are many and varied. The whales have learned to generalise that anything a visitor does with their right hand means spin. Similarily for talk………..However if a trainer gives a sloppy cue, the whales look askance and the behaviour doesn’t happen!