Monday, March 31, 2014

What Is Clicker Training? And Does it Work?

Clicker Training is the fastest, easiest and most clear communication you can have with your dog.
So many people, (oh yes!  including myself) get so frustrated with their dog because they know they are not clearly communicating.  The dog just doesn't get what I'm trying to teach it!
Using a clicker is the most positive experience you can have while getting through to your dog what it is you want him/her to do.
Many people, unfortunately, don't know much, if anything on how to use it.

I realize that I'm talking to all different levels here.  Clicker training is easy to master.  You have to have a clicker and a treat bag with you at all times.  The dog will do ANYTHING for you if you are prepared with this tiny little device and a few good treats.  If your dog is not food motivated, have his/her favorite toy in your hip pocket or use a game like fetch or chase as a reward.  What ever motivates your dog to perform the activity is what you use as a reward.

What does the 'click' do?  It marks the exact moment your dog began to do what it was you asked.  You say sit.  The dog bends it's hind legs to begin to sit.  It takes you a minute to get over there to say good boy and pat him on the head.  Then you have to go and get a treat out of the jar.  By the time the dog gets his treat, he knows he did something good, but he's already followed you to the cookie jar.  So he  thinks he's being treated for following you to the cookie jar.  If you had your clicker, you could click at that moment when the dog began to sit.  It still takes a second to receive the treat, but he knows exactly what he did to deserve it.  If you practice that over and over, pretty soon the dog is sitting without your asking.  He knows that gets a click.  He'll do anything to make that click sound happen.  The click is precise.  It marks the exact behavior you want.  And that exact behavior is movable.  You can start with a small thing, like "look", and end up with a finished product, which may be a dog approaches your dog, and your dog lays down with his back to him and looks at you.  The cue could be anything from "ignore" to "uh-oh".  The dog learns what that cue means and does it.

Since I'm talking with so many different levels of trainers and handlers, I'm going to try to keep this pretty simple.  To those who know all about clicker training;  I'll just say this one thing to you.  When you really have a problem that you can't resolve, such as aggressive behavior;  Don't forget your clicker and some high value treats!  Clicker training is not just for teaching sit, stay, come or down.  The key is to break the desired behavior down to the smallest steps.  For example, if you want to teach your dog to go in his kennel, but your dog won't even go near it, click treat for looking at the kennel.  When the dog has mastered looking at the kennel, up the anty and start to click treat for walking by the kennel.   Then up the anty again and click treat for walking over to the kennel.  Etc. Etc. Etc.  Just break down the activity to the most simple steps and work on one step at a time.  And remember.  The behavior is a movable target.  You may have started to click him for just looking at the kennel, but by the end, he doesn't get a click until he's in the kennel and laying down calmly.  (This training could take up to 2 months depending on the severity of your dog's aversion to the kennel)

Having said all this;  I've just completed a book that has re-opened my eyes to the clicker.  It is called Click to Calm by Emma Parsons.  Click (ha ha) on the picture below.

This book is wonderful, because she explains in detail how she ended up with a dog that was aggressive toward other dogs and how she tried everything that didn't work.  (Sounded just like she was talking about me and my Malcolm)  She puts in her book 'recipes' to follow for each step of the way.  You don't have to think, you simply have to do.  It is working, too, for Malcolm.  Nothing happens overnight, but I have his attention and I'm keeping it this time.  I highly recommend this book, even if your dog is not aggressive, because of the details she puts forth in the basics of sit, stay, come etc.  All the recipes are there.  You simply need to follow them.  It's like painting by number.  

Carry the clicker with you everywhere and you can 'catch' your dog doing a behavior that is natural to him/her, like spinning or jumping and you can eventually put a cue word with it and teach him to do that behavior on cue.  You don't have to teach each behavior, you can simply put their own behaviors on cue and have a dog that performs 'tricks'.  You both end up looking like you are super cool and your friends will think you are the best dog trainer ever!

It's positive.  You only click and treat for behavior you want.  There is no harsh correction or negative vibe coming from you.  Your bond will strengthen and your dog will understand you.  Clickers are amazing.