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.

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