Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rules for Clicker Training

This is going along with the theme from my last post Dog Training Secrets.  I am going to make a big poster board one of these days and take it to my classes that I teach, not because people are always breaking the rules, but because I say them so often that I forget if I have said them or not in which class.  So I thought I would break them down here first as my "first draft" and spare the actual poster board a few drafts at least.

Rule #1
Only Click the clicker when the dog is doing something you want it to do.

That means you don't click to get the dog's attention.  You don't click when the dog is ignoring you.  You don't click when the dog is jumping up on you (unless that is something you want).

Rule #2
You always treat after you click.
I don't care if that is a fun toy, or a yummy dog treat, or a piece of hot dog.  If you want the clicker to carry the maximum potential for your training you need to keep it "working."  If you get in your car and turn the key and nothing happens what happens to you immediately?  You start to think, "Oh crap! The car isn't working!" You feel stressed, and angry right?  This is the start of what is called an extinction curve.  If, from then on out, that car never started for you, you would eventually stop doing what it was (putting the key in the car) that used to work and now doesn't.  You don't want to do that with your dog.  You want the clicker to remain like the key to the car that always starts.  If your dog hears the click, then doesn't get a treat like he expects, he too will start to go through an extinction curve. Just like you he will get frustrated, and start to think that the clicker is "broken". He will no longer see it as the means to his reward, thus it will loose it's motivational power.

Rule #3
Time the click, not the treat
 Your timing needs to be the thing your focus on first.  The treats can come 15-30 seconds later (after the dog knows to expect a treat after he hears the click).  Don't forget to offer the treat, but it's the timing of the click that is actually giving the information to your dog and doing the "training" work. So make sure you are clicking at the right time and don't worry your dog will wait for you to fish the treat out of your pocket or grab it from the table.  I find that it helps to hold a squishy treat (like a Greenies Pill Pocket) in the same hand as my clicker, then I simply squish a bit off after I have clicked.  If you need to practice on your kids or by using a bouncy ball to get your timing down, don't be embarrassed.  It does not always come easy to learn yourself, how to coordinate all those things going on, but with practice it does come easier.

Rule #4
Phase the clicker out
You don't want to have your dog dependent on the clicker forever, right? Once your dog understands what you are asking of him, and will do it consistently, phase the clicker out until you are no long using it for that particular cue.  You can still use it to teach something new or continue teaching something else, just stop using it for things they are good at doing. It is nice however to make sure you  give them positive attention when they do what they have been asked.  A treat now and then never hurts either, after all what is the reason you drag your butt to work every day?  You go for the paycheck right?  Make sure your dog continues to feel good about doing what you ask, by giving praise and who in their right mind ever minds a freebie (treat) just for being good.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Top Dog Training Secerets

So I assume you have a dog or are planning on acquiring one in the near future, right?
So you are looking for some tips on how to train, you know there are books, but each book has their own method, and so does every trainer, it can get rather confusing huh.  What does your gut say, forget about what you have or have not been told.  You like your new dog?  You want him to like you too correct?  Keep this in mind when you go about your training.  Your dog is smart, smarter than you  possibly give him credit for, even if it is an eight week old puppy, or an older senior dog. They watch us all the time and are able to read us like a book in a few days.  They know that look on your face that says "look out, he's mad!" They also know when you look sad and need a friend, or when they can get away with things because you won't catch them in time.
Here is one of the first dogs I taught when I moved here, beautiful isn't he.  He's a great dog and his family loves him.  He is very smart, just like you, see the happy confident smile on his face? That would not be there is we had used punishment or dominance based training. Remember that line in the movie "Night at the Museum?"  Where the monkey and the night watchman are having a slapping contest? "who's evolved?"  Keep this in mind while training. Your dog does not reason things out like you and I do, they live in the moment, they don't mull things over, they remember what has worked in the past and apply that to their future.  I don't use e collars, or shock methods, I don't use pinch collars, or choke chains either, all for the same reason, as  Ted Turner from SeaWorld said," If we can teach a Killer Whale to pee in a cup, you can train your dog without the use of punishment

Remember, your dog is your friend, not a prisoner of war, so treat him as such.
 I use the clicker training method (which was started by working with dolphins) and found that it works wonders on all dogs, fearful, aggressive, excitable, or just happy go lucky.  Methods aside, there are two keys that you need to have in order to be successful at training your dog to do everything from potty training, to agility training. Are you ready for them? Ready to slap me with that clipboard yet? :o) Two very simple set of rules,
Number 1. Be Clear
Number 2. Be Consistent
What? That's it?  Yep, that's it.  Methods aside, these two things will either make or break it in training.  These two things spell the difference between having accidents in the house and not, and for how long if you have already had a few slip ups.

Sound simple?  Well, it is, and it isn't. Let me explain.  Number 1. Be Clear.  This means taking time to think through what it is exactly you want your dog to do.  This is where a trainer or a book that has things set out in steps can come in handy.  You need to explain to your dog that you want him to put his butt on the ground when he hears the word "SIT."  Well that sounds simple enough to you and me, but we speak English and know what the word "SIT" means.  What if someone told you "S'ASSEOIR" (yes this is a real word).  Would you know what to do?  The reason the clicker works so well, is it acts as a translator of sorts, telling your dog that whatever he did within a second of hearing that clicking noise will get him a treat or something he really wants (I start off using food that they love and then later move to a toy if I can when I first start using the clicker).  So he quickly starts to put two and two together and soon realizes when you say "SIT" and he puts his butt on the ground, everyone is happy, including him.

 The next thing you need to do is Number 2 on the list Be Consistent. This again sounds easier than it really is in practice.  If you say "SIT" and your dog simply runs off and ignores you, you have a problem.  Your dog is telling you that the word "SIT" means only when he wants to, and not when you want him to, or he doesn't really know what the word means.  He might think "SIT" means putting his butt on the ground, but only if you are standing right in front of him, or he has a leash on.  You need to ask for a sit in all kinds of circumstances to make sure he understands what "SIT" really means.  Being consistent also means that when potty training, you set up a food and water schedule and take your puppy outside to do his business (I then recommend clicking and rewarding every time you catch them doing potty in the correct place as well as telling them, if you catch them, that they did it wrong in the wrong place).

Being consistent means taking the time that is needed to make sure your dog really understands what it is you want him to do.  If you don't want your dog to jump on people, then consistently only give him attention when all 4 paws are on the ground.  Sometimes that means helping them by getting down to their level when they are smaller, and showing them that they will get the attention they crave, they just need to be polite when asking for it.
The bottom line is training takes forethought and a plan for it to work the best.  Take 5 minutes every day to work on one thing at a time, take training at their level, which will be different for every dog, and show compassion and understanding for what they are trying to do.  Doing this you will go far and have a dog who trusts you.  If you do hit an unforeseen snag with your dog, don't feel ashamed at needing to ask for help.  Even trainers talk their problems over with other trainers when they come upon a problem they can't see the answer to.  By being consistent, and clear in what you do teach your dog you will find that things will go much more smoothly and keep frustration levels as minimal as possible.  If you are having problems sometimes it helps to have someone watch you and tell you if you are being clear, or evaluate yourself and see if you have been as consistent as you should have been.  Dogs will test your rule boundaries every once in a while, so be prepared to have that consistency be tested every once in a while.  There are reasons that people draw comparisons to raising kids and training dogs, sometimes they are eerily similar at times! 

P.S. Don't forget to have fun and be fun, remember "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down"!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The cutest dog trainer yet!

I know I'm a bit biased when it comes to the title of this post, but she really is super cute to watch.  We had a few treats were were giving Roxy and my daughter just started asking her to do all these things that she sees me doing with her and I just couldn't help but pull the camera out and record, and now you all have the chance to see that age has nothing to do with the ability of getting your dog to do what your asking it to do.  Marian is quite sure of herself and is clear in what she is asking Roxy to do, that is all you need as well.  Enjoy :o)