Getting Down to Business

Your Puppy’s First Week Home, Part Three

I’m going to do my very best to give you an overview of clicker training. I can talk for days about this multifaceted training method and the benefits and science behind it. For the purpose of this particular post I will be brief and save the detail for later entries.

Danner is ready for some clicker training!

Danner is ready for some clicker training!

So what is a clicker?

A clicker is simply a tool used as an event marker. When the dog performs the desired behavior, you click! The click tells the dog, in uncomplicated black and white, exactly what they did right. They learn when they hear the click a reward is coming.

Clicker training begins as classical conditioning, think Pavlov, but quickly becomes operant conditioning the minute the animal repeats a behavior in order to get the reward. Operant conditioning creates an animal that acts with purpose, as opposed to acting out of habit. While we want our dogs to perform certain tasks habitually, we also want our dogs to behave with purpose. A dog that performs tasks intentionally is eager to learn new skills and will remember those tasks years later. They have control over their actions and the consequences, and they are enthusiastic because they know how to make the consequences pleasurable. This develops confidence and helps them feel secure in their surroundings.

So, why does clicker training really work? I know you’re wondering what’s going on inside the mind of this enthusiastic little pooch of mine? For more on the science behind clicker training, watch for my next entry! I’ve got an entire post full of cool, geeky, sciency stuff!

Lola, PhD, Human Training and Psychology

Lola, PhD, Human Training and Psychology

There are many reasons we use a clicker as the event marker:

  • A click is a sound that a dog won’t hear in any other environment. It means, without a doubt, they did something right and a reward is coming!
  • It’s not emotional like your voice. You can say the same word in many difference ways and the tone in your voice and your body language can tell the dog many different things. A click only means one thing.
  • You can start training immediately instead of waiting to build a relationship, because clicker training actually builds a strong and solid relationship.
  • Training sessions can last longer because they hold the dog’s interest and dogs stay motivated because there aren’t any distractions, just the dog, the behavior, the clicker, and a reward.
  • It becomes the greatest game on the planet. It’s their goal to figure out what makes you give up the treats!

Getting Started

Here are the 3 simple and easy steps to clicker training:

  1. Get the behavior through capturing or luring
  2. Click to mark the behavior
  3. Reinforce the behavior with a reward

There is a process calling “loading” or “charging” the clicker. It makes a positive association with the clicker by helping the dog to realize that the sound means food is coming. Some trainers still load the clicker while others just jump right in and start. It’s no doubt the clicker will “load” itself in just a matter of minutes. If you choose to load the clicker sit in the floor with your dog and click then treat. Do this over and over for a few minutes. Most dogs will pick up on the fact that the click means food is coming within the first 10 to 20 clicks.

Capturing

Now you are ready to capture and reward your first behavior. Put your treat bag on your waist, and get your clicker ready…here we go!

With your dog in front of you and your clicker in your hand wait patiently until the dog offers a sit. The instant the dog sits, click, and without saying a word reach into your treat bag and reward your dog.

  • It’s important to note that you shouldn’t have your hand resting in your treat bag. It’s too distracting for your dog. Be sure to wait for the behavior, then click, and then reach into your bag for a treat.

When you give the reward, bend down to your dog and try to put the treat in their mouth before they have the opportunity to jump up. Don’t encourage jumping by treating when they have feet off the ground.

  • Instead of overloading your dog on food and treats, and potentially helping them to gain unneeded weight, portion out your dog’s meals for the day and use their kibble as treats. The small size of kibble makes for a great quick and simple treat and it will prevent them from overeating.

Now that you have clicked and treated once, stand patiently and wait for your dog to offer the behavior again. When he does, click immediately, and then reach into your bag for a treat.

Timing is crucial in clicker training. You are communicating with your dog the exact behavior you want them to repeat, so be sure to click at the exact moment your dog sits, and not when they pop up in anticipation of a reward.

It is also very important to remain completely quiet during training sessions. Don’t add any distractions to the environment by talking. The click is enough reward for your dog. They don’t need to hear “good boy!” after each behavior. At the end of the session, reward them with tons of verbal praise and petting.

Adding a Cue

Adding a cue to a behavior is simple. Once your dog understands what they are doing to get a reward, simply anticipate when the behavior is going to happen and say the cue a second before they do it. Then, click and reward with a treat. Keep your voice cool, calm, and collected.

Luring

If your dog doesn’t want to offer behaviors at first, you can use luring to move them into the desired position. Use food rewards, or a target stick, to lure the dog into a down position. When they reach the desired position, click and treat! Be sure to fade the lure out early on. You don’t want your dog dependent on the lure.

Be Aware

  • Body language is a way that canines communicate and you need to make sure you are communicating the correct things to your dog. Don’t move about too much, slump over, wiggle, etc. during training. Be still, calm, and only make necessary movements.
  • Every time you click you MUST give a reward. If you click by mistake, you still give them the treat.

One misconception about clicker training is that once you start the dog won’t perform a behavior without the clicker. You can begin to phase out the clicker and reward using the “lottery method” after your dog is proficient in the behavior. They will still perform the behaviors because they know a reward is coming, they just don’t know when. It’s gambling. You buy the lottery ticket because there’s always a chance of a huge payout. Just remember to give a high reward periodically and lots of praise.

After food rewards are phased out, cues are also rewarded during everyday situations. For example, when the dog comes and sits calmly beside you, you reach over and pet them. If they were to jump in your lap they would be completely ignored. The petting is the reward for the appropriate behavior. Rewarding in different ways such as petting, with a toy, a retrieve, etc. leaves the yummy food rewards for learning new and exciting behaviors.

If your dog already knows the sit cue, work on a different behavior such as down, shake, touch, etc. Take some video while you go through these steps and post it on the Facebook page! I want to see how well y’all are doing. Good luck!

Amos is demonstrating his favorite trick below:

Danner knows what a click means!

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5 thoughts on “Getting Down to Business

  1. BillieClaire, you are a miracle worker. Like I said before, I wish you had done this 6 months earlier! Your instructions and videos make everything seem so much easier, and I would have done much better in my own training of Scarlett had I had these to follow.

    • Susan, thanks so much for the compliments! I’m really hoping this blog helps people communicate better and more effectively with their dogs. It breaks my heart to see a frustrated owner and a confused dog because neither knows what the other is trying to tell them! I just wish I was faster at getting the blog posts out there! I have a whole list of topics I’m planning on covering! So far, my computer slows me down the most. I’m a photography lover, so I have a FULL hard drive on my computer and about 8 or so other drives totally about 4TB of memory that are full! I’m slowly but surely getting the pictures archived on DVDs so I can free up room on the hard drives and my computer. I’m also aiming at just buying a new computer soon!!! 😀
      Anyway, don’t worry about needing this blog 6 months earlier. You can still work on everything I’m posting with your dogs, no matter their age and no matter their training level. Remember, training NEVER stops. Just start from the beginning with each dog and work your way through! Let me know how it goes!!

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