Friday, March 30, 2012

Some Random Thoughts From A Trainer’s Perspective About Dogs, Clickers, And Life Rewards

The most unfortunate thing about clicker training is the name
The word "clicker"conjures up a gimmicky toy, a fad, something cheap and temporary. Actually, clicker training employs the laws of behavior and relies upon the science of learning. It is both simple and complex. It is therefore also ironic.

Clicker training ROCKS
Once your dog understands the game “I do something and you tell me if I am on the right track and then reward me for it” only the sky is  the limit.  

Must I always use food as a reward?
No. You must, however, use something your learner finds rewarding. Food happens to be a. necessary for survival b. universally enjoyed c. easy to obtain and use

How can I tell the difference between a clicker trainer and a trainer with a clicker?

The most telling indication is that clicker trainers do not intentionally add corrections into the training process. There is no need, as the “no” is built in to the click. No click means “try again, dog”.  Leash pops, “Eh-eh’s” and the like are not only irritating and unnecessary, more importantly, they can weaken the cue. A cue is an opportunity-it is never an implied threat. 
A cue is an opportunity for good things to come
A command says  “Do it NOW or else.” 

Good training is fair to the learner
Tasks are sliced into tiny steps and then taught one step at a time. If you get to a sticking point, simply go back to the last step and then work your way back up. 
This ensures a fast-paced, fun, and effective learning environment. 

A clicker is a marker, not a remote control. 
It doesn’t make the dog do something. It does tells the dog something “Yes, this is exactly what I want”

Can anyone can call himself or herself a dog trainer?
Yes, anyone. Even the guy in the yellow suit standing next to us who looks like he should be getting back to selling used cars. Just because an individual has a lot of dogs does not mean that person understands dog behavior. The guy in the yellow suit may work around lots of cars, (get it? LOTS of cars?!) but that is no guarantee he has the skills to repair one.

So, what questions should I ask a potential trainer?
Where did you learn to become a dog trainer?
Do you hold any certifications and from what organizations?
Do you belong to any professional groups? Which?
What was the last seminar you attended or book you read about dogs or dog training? What tools do you use? 

But I don’t want to use treats!
Somehow the notion that a dog should work for us motivated only by the sheer joy of being in our presence became accepted as truth. 
Treats are not a "bribe" and they will not result in a dog that "only works for food" (oddly enough, I never hear "My dog only works to avoid a correction") or one that is "spoiled", nor will it result in a dog that "begs for food". Can all of those things occur around food? Yes. But that is not what clicker training is.

My dog "knows he is not supposed to ----------"
Dogs have a far different culture than we do. In our culture it would be considered the height of impropriety to sniff the genitals of someone you were just introduced to, especially at a business meeting (if you try this at your next company gathering, do let me know how it turns out) If you are a dog, however, this is a perfectly acceptable greeting. It is not “right” or “wrong”, it is simply a cultural difference. Teaching your dog to abide by the rules of your culture is the fair thing to do-do not expect that he already knows the customs of your country. In Greece, holding your hand outstretched, palm showing, is the equivalent to giving someone the middle finger in the United States. If no one teaches you this before you visit Crete, you might receive a punch in the nose from a parent while innocently asking their child to "halt" as a car approaches.

Routine and practice are your friends
If you give a dog too much room for invention, his ideas of fun and amusement will likely not be ones you would suggest for him (unless you also enjoy digging holes, barking, and shredding things- I do not judge)

Will I have to carry a clicker and treats with me forever?
No. We use clickers to teach a specific behavior. The click marks the behavior, the food (or reinforcer) creates the association (good or bad) and what is reinforced will likely be repeated. In other words, given enough practice the behavior itself becomes the reward.

To gain control, you must give up control
I know, it sounds very new-age and annoying, but bear with me here. Push someone and they lean towards you to keep from falling over (the opposition reflex). Remember the old black light posters from the 1970's with the butterfly or a bird in flight that said "If you love something let it go, if it comes back to you its yours..." (Stay with me! I promise I am going somewhere with this) Set the environment up in such a way that the learner does what you want him to do of his own volition and you hold all the cards. 

B.F. Skinner (Walden Pond) says it like this:  “They are doing what they want to do, not what they are forced to do. That's the source of the tremendous power of positive reinforcement-- there's no restraint and no revolt. By careful cultural design, we control not the final behavior, but the inclination to behave-- the motives, desires, the wishes.” 

In other words, make it their idea. Come on-it's a dog. It's not that hard! Here's the thing-we constantly struggle with what we think the dog should be doing-in other words, we are fighting ourselves. The dog is simply being a dog. Manage his environment and set him up to behave in ways which you approve.

1970's Flashbacks? Why am I reading this blog, again?
Because you love your dog! 

Peace Out.