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Alison N
Dogsey Junior
Alison N is offline  
Location: Yorkshire
Joined: Apr 2004
Posts: 125
03-05-2004, 04:42 PM

Clicker Training - With Alison of Volsung Rottweilers

Why clicker train?
Good question. Lets look at the more traditional methods of training and assess the dogs learning pattern.

Many of us have taught through the more traditional methods e.g. to make a dog sit, we will push down on his rump, to stop a dog pulling on the lead, we deliver a “check” on a choke chain. You may be asking yourself, why should I teach with a clicker, I’ve taught through these methods for years and they have worked.

With the more force based methods, we are not allowing the dog to think for himself – we are forcing him to do something that he doesn’t really understand. A good example of this is the choke chain.

If a dog is “checked” everytime he pulls on the lead, he has learnt to heel through avoidance of pain (negative reinforcement). Clicker training works entirely on positive reinforcement, the dog is empowered to work for then end result. Lets go back to our example of a motivating reward – the theory is the same!

If someone asks you “Please go and post this letter or I will thump you”, you would probably post the letter because you are frightened of the consequences. If someone asks you “Please go and post this letter and I will give you a box of chocolates”, you would feel empowered to undertake the task.

Dogs are very intelligent animals but unfortunately our language is beyond them. We confuse them by delivering a tirade of commands in different tones of voice – the dog may well perform the action you want by accident rather than design!

By clicker training, the dog is allowed to use his brain to get the end result. A dog is extremely quick to pick up on rewarded behaviour and the clicker works by a technique called “shaping”.

Shaping is rewarding the behaviour in stages. Think of making bread – you have a lump of dough that resembles nothing. You knead and shape it to produce the end result. We are letting our dog work out what’s required and what do you get from this?

The dog has a wonderful working relationship with his handler, devoid of fear and confusion.

The dog is using his brain – most dogs will display undesirable behaviour just out of boredom. A dog with an occupied brain is healthy, happy and no trouble!

Other than the two obvious reasons, there are many more advantages to clicker training.

It captures the exact behaviour (rather like taking a photo!);

It is much faster and more accurate than the spoken command. Try to keep your voice consistent – hard isn’t it? Our voice will always alter dependant on our mood. The clicker methods also allows any family member to train.

It is an extremely good system for nervous or agitated dogs who can get upset at differing tones of voice.

Copyright Volsung Rottweilers
Alison N
Dogsey Junior
Alison N is offline  
Location: Yorkshire
Joined: Apr 2004
Posts: 125
03-05-2004, 04:46 PM
1. Offered Behaviour
Offered behaviour is just waiting for your dog to perform the action of his own accord (e.g. lie down). Once he performs the action, click and treat – then wait for the behaviour to happen again.

Your dog will soon work out that the click and treat is in his control – he can make the click and treat happen just by repeating what he has been rewarded for.

Let’s look at an example of offered behaviour :

Exercise – The “Watch”

This is an excellent starting exercise and an illustration of OFFERED behaviour.

Wait for the dog to look at you – when he does, click and treat;

Do this for a few repetitions ;

Your dog should soon realise “if I look at you, I get a click and a treat” and his response will get faster and faster!

2. Luring

Sometimes your dog needs some help and you can do this through a technique called luring.

Luring is when we present some encouragement to the dog but remember, the clicker method is hands off – we are looking to guide him.

Luring falls into some of the training behaviours you will have already used, for example – if you want your dog to come to you from a distance, you may wave his favourite toy at him.

Lets look at an example of luring and how the clicker fits in:

Exercise – The Down

This is an example of LURED behaviour.

Place your dog into a sit;

Place a treat to his nose and slowly draw it down his chest;

It will be a natural reaction for his shoulders to go down or he may go into a down – click and treat any of these behaviours;

If he only lowers his shoulders, click and treat for a few repetitions then stop;

Your dog should then go that little further and lower his shoulders more or go into the down – click and treat.

3. Shaping
Shaping is the cornerstone of clicker training – you can use either offered or luring to shape the end result.

By clicking and treating each stage of an exercise, you don’t need to wait for the end result and this is “shaping”.

This is where we are getting the dog to use his brain to work out what is required. This is fun for the dog and exercises his brain – we don’t want a bored dog, we want an enthusiastic one!

Let’s look at an example of behaviour shaping. There are many exercises that use shaping but heelwork tends to be the best illustrator :

Exercise – Heelwork

This is an example of a SHAPED behaviour.

Start with your dog off the lead;

If your dog walks within a certain radius of you (e.g. 1 metre), click and treat;

After a few repetitions, stop clicking and treating;

Click and treat if your dog comes within ½ a metre;

After a few repetitions, stop clicking and treating;

Walk to the side of your dog and if he goes to your left (doesn’t matter about the distance), click and treat;

After a few repetitions, stop clicking and treating;

Click and treat if your dog comes closer but on your left;

After a few repetitions, stop clicking and treating.

We are teaching the dog “shaped” behaviour – we are starting off with very loose criteria and slowly raising the odds.

4. Targeting

Clicker training can also incorporate “Targeting” and this involves the dog following a target (usually a target stick).

This is useful for teaching heelwork, contact points, pick ups, etc.

Targeting falls into the “Luring” method as we are pointing the dog in the right direction.

It is especially useful for teaching close heelwork, target points etc.

What we are aiming to do is to teach the dog there is something to focus his attention on. You can use anything for a target stick – your hand, your foot, a piece of cane. I use my old riding crop as it’s the only use it has! Lets look at teaching the dog how to use a target stick.

Exercise – Targeting

This is how to teach your dog to use a target stick.

Offer the target stick just in front of the dogs nose;

He should be curious and sniff it – click and treat!

He will soon pick up on this so stop clicking and treating;

Move the target stick away a very short distance, your dog should follow it – click and treat!

Continue this for a few repetitions until he follows the stick then move onto different directions (over his head, onto the floor, left, right etc).

Each time your dog follows the stick, click and treat!

When you are happy with this, start to vary the click and treat – he should show more determination and start to bump the stick with his nose. Click and treat!

When you are completely happy he is following the target stick – introduce a command (e.g. Touch)

**NOTE** If your dog has a tendency to bite or mouth the target stick, time the click and treat just before his mouth gets to it!

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Alison N
Dogsey Junior
Alison N is offline  
Location: Yorkshire
Joined: Apr 2004
Posts: 125
03-05-2004, 04:46 PM
It is very important to practice your timing first so watch the television and decide that when a certain person says a particular word, you are going to click. Timing is most important so practice until you are confident.

When you are happy with your timing, it’s time to introduce your dog to the clicker. We want the dog to be focused on the clicker rather than the food so ensure the treats are not in your pockets or in your lap. Put them in a container of bag and let your dog know they are available (let him sniff the bag). Click once and follow it up with a treat – after a few repetitions, your dog will soon have got the hang of this as he will be thinking “aha – this is good, that click means food!”. Each dog learns at a different pace so don’t worry if your dog takes quite a few clicks and treats.

It’s important to vary the time between the click and treat – not too long (just a few seconds) as this teaches the dog that the clicker is pinpointing the behaviour rather than the treat.

Don’t use your voice as the clicker is doing the work – by adding your voice, you are adding an element of confusion! Ensure your dog is hungry before commencing training and always stop before he becomes bored.

OK, my dog is happy that a click means a treat – how do I start?

You are now looking to click and treat wanted behaviour and the importance is that the click arrives as the behaviour occurs not after (remember timing!).

Remember to keep the food off you, we don’t want him to be focused on the food.

To begin with, you will need to reinforce every stage with a click and treat. Your dog will soon work this one out though so we then want to raise the stakes e.g. click and treat every two repeats or three – keep it random though – dogs are very quick to pick up on a pattern!.

If your dog is constantly rewarded for every stage throughout training, he will quickly become bored. By raising the stakes, we are keeping him enthusiastic and he will work harder – he will think you have missed the behaviour so he will repeat it to get your attention – remember :

An attempt to be noticed = Enthusiasm!

If you see any deterioration in your dogs behaviour, cut the repetitions in half and start again.

You should get to a stage where the behaviour is being constantly offered so then we need to polish it e.g. click and treat only the longest sit or the fastest sit. Don’t try to go for two polishes at once – just like you couldn’t polish two ornaments at the time – neither can your dog! Take one at a time.

Introducing a verbal command.

Once you are happy that your dog is responding exactly to the behaviour you want, you can then introduce the command. Look for a 98% success rate before you introduce the verbal command and only use the command once. Once you have introduced the command, ignore offered behaviour (e.g. if he sits without command). So what have we learned – the three tasks of clicker training :




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Alison N
Dogsey Junior
Alison N is offline  
Location: Yorkshire
Joined: Apr 2004
Posts: 125
03-05-2004, 04:49 PM
My dog behaves perfectly in the house but what about outside with distractions?

The majority of dogs are very focused in the home but when out and about, there is too much to concentrate on and their attention disappears!

We now want to up the stakes for his behaviour again by introducing some distractions. To start with, upgrade the treats to get more attention!

You can introduce any distraction you like but one at a time until you are confident (e.g. play with a toy while leaving your dog in a stay). It’s important to do this distraction proofing at home – don’t wait for chance meetings outside as there is a good chance you will fail. Don’t raise the odds too much – remember shaping!

My dog responds perfectly to the command – do I still need to use the clicker?

No. Once you are happy your dog knows the verbal command, you can fade out the clicker (once every 5 repetitions, then 10 etc.). The clicker is just a learning tool to get the end result.

My dog doesn’t like the sound of the clicker – it frightens him.

Some dogs can be nervous of the noise so the aim is to progress the positive association.

Start off with the clicker in a towel or glove to muffle the sound. Use it in exactly the same way and when your dog is happy, reduce the muffling.

He will soon realise a click is a good thing!

Finally - The Golden Rules!

Always train pets separately – remember the click has to pin point the exact behaviour. Two dogs will not perform at the same rate.

Remember to keep the treats out of your pockets;

The click must come WHEN the behaviour is performed, not after;

Vary the click and treat to keep your dog guessing;

Concentrate on a single behaviour until you are satisfied that your dog knows it.

If in a bad mood – don’t train!

Always work to a dogs concentration span – push too far and you will lose the results.

Not all dogs learn the same way so if you find you are having difficulties with a particular exercise, let me know and I'll work around it for you.

Copyright Volsung Rottweilers
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