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Clicker Training for Dogs

"Clicker Training - A New Technology":  An article by Mr.Venkatesh, an ardent fan of
Clicker Training.

adog9.gif (2585 bytes) The name that sounds new and quizzical for all Dog Enthusiasts in India is a simple but effective technique that is being used to train dogs all over the world. Record shows that it is being used in over 40 countries. This method is based on omitting punishment from the start.

Clicker training is based fully on Positive Reinforcement. Karen Pryor, known as the God mother of Clicker training, in her foreword of the book "Don’t shoot the dog" which has sold more than 3,00,000 copies writes "This book is all about how to train anyone - human or animal, young or old to do anything that can and should be done". Such is the strength of Positive reinforcement. Applying positive reinforcement on dog training will prove great success.

Clicker training began in 1992 with a panel discussion between trainers and scientists. Followed by "Don’t shoot the dog" seminar conducted by Karen Pryor, Gary Wilkes and marine mammal trainer Ingrid Shallenberger. From then on there has not been any stop. Seminars followed with books, videos and finally through Internet where there are a number of sites hosted and e mail lists. Email lists like "click for Success" on the one list is very active.

Clicker training is associated with dolphin training. Dolphins are wild sea animals and training them never involves punishment to which they will never obey. No chokes or leash was involved with their training. The simply responded to positive reinforcement - marker signal with a whistle. In Clicker training for dogs, the marker signal was replaced with a clicker.


Cadgfd.gif (4051 bytes) Anyone after reading just this page can jump into clicker training. Clicker training needs no physical strengths or special skill beyond the ability to press the clicker with well-timed clicks. Clicker training today is a much scientifically processed technique. Serious behaviorists have studied, tried and have associated a lot of scientific terms. I think for a basic dog trainer these following terms when understood well is sufficient to start off with. Dogs love clicker training. They learn happily how to please you by doing those things that make you click.

1) Reinforcer: A reinforcer is anything that occurring in conjunction with an act, tends to increase the probability that the act will occur again. Reinforcement strengthens behavior. There are two kinds of reinforcer

Positive Reinforcer: - (+R) means that you give something desirable to the dog to reinforce ("reward") the behavior that occurred (dog sits, gets biscuit)

Negative reinforcer:- (-R) means that you take something undesirable away in order to reinforce the behavior just occurred. A leash/choke chain is a negative reinforcer. The dog sits to avoid the jerk on the choke and a hand pushing its rump into the ground. This reinforces the dog to sit as and when the sit command is given to avoid the nagging choke.

2) Primary Reinforcer (PR): is something the dog "naturally" want. It can be food, play, run or romp.

3) Conditioned Reinforcer(CR): is something the dog is "taught to like" by pairing it with a primary reinforcer. Anything can serve as a conditioned reinforcer, voice, whistle or a clicker.

Let us put all three definitions together. Clicker training is all about positive reinforcement with conditioned reinforcement. Simply it means that dog is taught to associate the sound of a clicker to make them think that something good is following. Clicker sound is like saying "Good boy".

The magic device: The clicker really is the magic device. It is this small device which is hand held and can be present all the time, it is always reliable in delivering the same sound, it is immediate and a dog is always able to recognize it.

qqq.gif (1039 bytes) But what is a Clicker???. Clicker in real sense is a small box with a thin metal strip inside a groove, which when flexed will release a sharp sound.

Where can you get one? Clicker is available anywhere in India, excepting we don’t have such clean, finished colorful plastic box clickers. Metal clicker should be easy to source, I picked up a handful in Chennai, priced at Rs.1 each. But these are rugged and are most unreliable, as they it doesn’t have long life.

The start:
Get armed with a clicker. Prepare 20-30 cut up treats, something very delicious. Boiled liver, small pieces of mutton or chicken (Left over of your meal) are best suggested as they are unlikely to be considered bore by any dogs. Size the treat to small pea sizes. If you have small spitz pea size is big enough, may be two or three pea sizes will suit good for your shepherd or Lab. For the first session I would suggest only live and delicious food as I mentioned above, they could be replaced soon with commercial goodies, which are clean, dry and easy to carry. But always size is important, we do not want training session to be hindered by big chunks and having the dogs to sit and chew them.

First Session: The first session may be only a few minutes but in a peace and quiet place. The living room is just fine. Wait until you and the dog can be alone. Put the treats in a dish or bowl where you can reach but the dog cannot. Always be prepared to move around and not just sit in your sofa or chair. Some dogs are not food motivated that’s fine once they catch the meaning of clickers, a zest for treats will develop naturally.

Get your treats ready, click and simultaneously hold out a treat right under your dog’s nose so it can get it easily. Move around but repeat the click and treats as often. These few clicks and treats are to help the dog understand what clicker means. Always keep your treat hand quiet or behind your back just out of sight of the dog. Always give the click first and the treat next. Now click and toss the treat on the floor or onto a plate or just let the dog search for the treat. You are showing the dog that click always mean food is coming. But it may not be in the same place everytime and it may not come right away. Do these two or three times.

dog2.gif (4601 bytes) Some clicker trainers like to condition the dog to the clicker by repeating this introductory process many times. But it was just once with my 10 month old lab Isha. After the first session she started pricking her ears and eyes full of glee. This was enough to convince me that she has learnt the meaning of clicker, associating the clicker sound to a treat to follow.

1. Learning Sit: To start the sit behavior, while the dog is standing up, hold the treat in your closed hand, right over the dog’s forehead; your hand can touch the forehead. If the dog sits, click and treat. If not move your hand backwards towards the dog’s tail, an inch or so. This way you’re luring the dog to go behind into folding its back legs and sit. Click when the dog starts to sit. Open your hand and give the treat immediately. When the treat is given, the dog might jump out of its position and grab the treat. Fine, unlike conventional training where we give the command, we are not concerned what the dog does when it is fed. We only click and click "Marks" the behavior. The dog will remember what it was doing when it was clicked without any help from you. If the dog does not sit, be patient. Take your treat hand back and start over by keeping your closed treat hand over the dog’s forehead. Do not push the dog, don’t tell it what to do. In clicker training we don’t start ordering the dog around. First we get the behavior and then we name it.

What if the dog jumps all over you? Ignore the behavior and wait for it to die down. When the dog puts its front feet back on the ground, start the hand movement again. Now start increasing the time of clicks and treats. Hold the treat make the dog sit and treat. Do this several times. Next time when the dog sits don’t click right away move your treat hand away. Is the dog still sitting? Click and treat. By delaying the click you are teaching the dog to sit there and stay until he hears the click. By this time you will have your dog coming in front of you and offering sit to win his clicks and treat. Encourage this - this is called "Off Cue" that is getting a behavior without giving command.

2. Adding Cue (Establishing the command): When you start this process of clicking, treating and delaying the click for the dog to sit. When you know the dog is responding well it is time to add the cue. Once the dog is reliably offering the sit, simply say "sit" as the dog is moving into the sit, just before you click and treat. Continue this cue combined with moving the treat over his head. This reinforces into the dog that it has to sit when offered the cue

3. No Corrections: What do you do if your dog doesn’t sit when you say "sit". You might see this as disobedience, which should not be the case. Perceive it differently, think your dog has missed an opportunity to earn reinforcement.

What I’ve discussed above is a simple but effective way to start with clicker training. Clicker training can be involved to train your dog to perform the complete cycle of obedience trials. If you’re not a show enthusiast, Clicker training can be used to socialize your dog to day today activities, like grooming. But the essence to clicker training is that you, as a dog owner has to do the training. Remember this training method might look as learning game for you but an exciting game actually for the dog. The right time to start this training is NOW.

anipuppy.gif (2185 bytes) You can teach a lot of things to your dog, making teaching for you and learning for the dog fun. I’ve taught my Isha to be polite dog offering best of the behavior with people. She sits whenever people cross their arms over their chest. Its simple read this:

a. Pick up a clicker and keep treats nearby

b. Make eye contact with the dog and slowly fold your arms. "don’t say sit"

c. If your dog sits - click and treat. Toss the treats to make your dog and stand up, move over and get the treats

d. If he doesn’t sit, move closer to him so that he looks up to see you and subsequently lowering his bottom to reach a sit position

e. If he starts jumping around, just move away and try the exercise later.

f. Ask your friends and visitors to cross their arms, you click and treat when the dog sits.

This training teaches your dog to sit and accept petting only when it is stationary. This eradicates the bad behavior of jumping up on your visitor and licking his face.

adog4.gif (1454 bytes) Clicker training can be applied to puppies even after they are weaned. When I mean puppies it can be a whole litter of puppies. The treats for these cuddly dolls can be a pan of food that is set down for the puppies.

Click and place the pan for the puppies to eat. This when repeated few times will make the puppies understand the meaning of clicker. To this when each puppy is picked up for clicker lessons a finger dipped in a thick paste of puppy feed can act as a treat. Do not concentrate on inducing behavior. Just pick up something the puppy happens to do, such as lifting the front paw and click as the paw goes up. It will take ten or more clicks for the puppy to understand and making it understand to lift paw on purpose. It will be amazing to note your puppy coming in front of you offering to raise its paw and staring directly into your eyes as if asking "Hey look I’m raising my paws, where’s the click and treat". You can now add your cue "Shake Hands" just as it offers to raise its paws. You can catch up on a lot of such behaviors for each of the puppy like jumping on all fours. It is for you to catch the right behavior you want and reinforce it. This training process can really turn the puppy into an observant learner.

The list can go on and on. Clicker training can be used for show dogs, which are too timid and shy to accept a judge’s hand on their body and rump. I remember an instance in this year’s FCI/AKU Dog show at Chennai. A Lab that was competing in the same class with Isha was looking good with good conformation, outside the ring. But this dog was very scared when the judge approached him. Even the handler could not control it.Finally it was disqualified for some reason. I read an article on the internet which said that in a similar situation a dog was clicker trained to avoid this bad behavior. It was clicked and treated at first when the owner’s hand was on the dog. Slowly clicks and treats were increased with each stroke. Gradually the clicker was faded out and the dog went onto win the conformation.

Please go through the links mentioned below, particularly Karen Pryor’s  Learn and practice the 15 rules she mentions. Gary Wilkes and Lana Mitchell are other few persons whose sites need to be visited. Register with Clicker training list on Look for the list "click for success" to register. Here you can interact with a lot of clicker trainers, who are discussing a lot of training related issues from heel walking in obedience, herding lessons, weaving pattern in agility and lot more.

Please write your reviews and interests and specific areas where you need clicker training to help your dog. Clicker training can be used from 8-week-old puppies to 16-year-old dogs. Your dog is one of them, so don’t let him miss out the opportunity to learn without punishment and getting all the fun. We will write regularly for clicker training your dog to get out desired behaviors.

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