Clicker Training Basics

YOU CAN CATCH MORE FLIES WITH HONEY This old adage is probably one which you heard your Grandma spout when you were set on revenge against an old boyfriend or a bullying classmate. For many years, traditional dog trainers have ignored the wisdom of this saying and have advocated harsh training methods for dogs. There is a place in dog training, definitely, for corrections with a choke or training collar or a pinch or prong collar. But these corrections should be reserved for wayward, powerful dogs or for dogs who resolutely choose to disobey. Clicker training is a positive-based training method.  The concept originated with dolphin and whale trainers who were determined to train these willing creatures. Picture trying to place a training collar onto the neck of a killer whale … one harsh correction and I suspect that the trainer would be dragged into the water and would become dinner. There are a few advantages to the clicker which are not found in praise, treats or toys used alone. 1. The clicker makes a distinctive noise which is unlike the majority of noises encountered in everyday life. 2. The clicker can capture the precise moment in time when the dog begins even the most miniscule segment of approved behaviour. 3. The clicker is not dependent upon our moods … the clicker won’t sound exhausted after a hard day of work … the clicker won’t sound annoyed that our pal isn’t getting it quickly enough. The clicker is a little gadget which, when pressed, makes a metallic clicking sound. There is no real magic in the clicker itself but, in my opinion, there is magic in the results!! The clicker is one of the most misunderstood concepts in dog training but, when used properly, helps forge a bond with the canine and its owner. Here are the rules of clicker training: The clicker marks the exact second when the dog’s behaviour was what the handler was aiming for. The sound of the click is ALWAYS followed by a reward, even if the clicker was pressed inadvertently. There is no room for corrections in a clicker training session no matter what. If the handler is feeling frustration, put the clicker away and end the training session. Every dog learns at his/her own pace. Like people, all dogs are individuals. When working at trick training, work with the dog’s natural inclinations. If Ruff tends to jump up, work with that behaviour. Clicker training works best in small training sessions … no more than a few minutes at a time several times a day. A “cue” is only attached to the behaviour once it is performed consistently by Ruff. The click is not used as the cue. For instance, the click is not used to replace the “come” command. Instead, the click marks the second in time when the dog is offering a desired behaviour. Here are the basic steps of clicker training: At this point, the clicker itself has no meaning to Ruff. Therefore, we need to “load” the clicker … this simply means that we need to attach importance in Ruff’s mind to the clicker. The easiest way is to get Ruff’s attention and when he looks up at you, click and treat. If Ruff is already trained in basic obedience commands, the “sit” command and then click and treat would be the way to go. It takes the average dog only a very short period of time to understand that the click sound is always followed by a treat and, in short order, Ruff will also understand that the click marks acceptable behaviour. The next step is to decide on training criteria. If you would like Ruff to push a ball across the floor, the first step would be in capturing a beginning of the hoped for behaviour. This is called shaping and is the purest form of clicker training. For instance, when Ruff turns toward the ball, the handler would click and treat. When Ruff catches on to the fact that turning towards the ball results in a tasty treat and performs this behaviour several times in a row, it is time to up the expectations. The next step would be in expecting Ruff to actually touch the ball. Every time he touches the ball, we would click and treat until, eventually, in successive approximations, Ruff is pushing the ball across the floor with his nose. At this point, the trainer would attach a “cue” to the behaviour. Cues can be a lot of fun and can be creative … cues such as “nose to the grindstone” or just “push” can be used. A quicker but less pure method of teaching Ruff a behaviour is by “luring”. Luring involves moving Ruff into the expected behaviour … holding a treat above Ruff’s head until his behind is in sit position is luring. Luring involves less thinking on Ruff’s part but can certainly be used to begin working toward more complex behaviours. Targeting is a method which is used frequently in agility training, where it is necessary for Ruff to dash away from the handler over a jump. The clicker is one tool in the tool belt of a devoted trainer, along with treats, toys, praise and training collars. What I love about clicker training is the fact that it increases the bond between dog and owner and stimulates the dog to enjoy creative thinking. If you’re interested in clicker training, some good books to start you off are: Don’t Shoot The Dog by Karen Pryor Click For Joy by Melissa Alexander Click To Calm by Emma Parsons The yahoo group Clicker Solutions is one of the best around. by Noel Hynds