Saturday, February 19, 2011

Back to Basics: Clicker Training

When we took Oscar to puppy class, our trainer gave us a clicker. The clicker wasn't really the focus of the class, though. While the class was based on positive reinforcement, it was more about using treats alone than pairing treats with the clicker. I've tried to use the clicker on my own, but I'm a bit ashamed to say that using the clicker has been sporadic at best. Plus, I was never taught how to do it, so I've just looked it up online and done what I thought was best, meaning I'm probably making some rookie mistakes.

Oscar went through a bit of a stubborn phase where he seemed to forget commands that he knew, like Sit or Come (especially Come). It's a bit better now, but he's still not consistent with his commands. I'd also like to work on his manners, since he still jumps up on us, nips our hands when he thinks we're holding treats, and walks over us when we're sitting on the couch. I noticed when I did use the clicker that it seemed to work a bit better than just using treats. The clicker helps me to mark the correct behaviour more effectively than praising. (This is especially important for Oscar because he often does something mischievous right after doing something right - like dropping a dishtowel or something else he's not supposed to eat, and then as soon as I praise, picking it right back up again before I can get my hands on it. I definitely don't want to accidentally praise the act of him picking the item back up!) The clicking also gets his attention in a way that our voices just don't seem to do. It gets the result that I'm looking for more consistently, more quickly. I'm hoping that consistent use of clicker training will help me teach Oscar to be a better-behaved puppy!

I've read that you shouldn't treat every time you click, because then the dog won't perform the behaviour if the food is not present. Instead, other reinforcements should be used. I assume that this means that praise should be alternated with treats. That's what I've been doing, not just to ensure that I get the behaviour I want, but also because I don't want Oscar getting too chubby. I'll probably reduce the amount of food that he gets to make up for the clicking and treating.

The only downsides so far are that I have to be careful to be really consistent, and I'm probably not as good as this as I could be. I'm working on it! I have to make sure that I've got the clicker with me at all times so that I can "catch" him doing the right thing. I don't want to miss an opportunity to praise! The other issue is that he seems to think that the clicker is the treat, and sometimes tries to eat it. That would be a problem.

Are there any clicker trainers out there with any advice for an amateur like me?  I'll be sure to let you know how training progresses!

A clicker and my treat/kibble mix. Hopefully
they're the key to good behaviour!


Katie said...

We just picked up a clicker recently for our Oscar, too. I'm anxious to hear any responses you get about tips and best practices since we, too, are amateur clickers :)

Mayli the Labradane said...

Hello! I'm glad you found your way to clicker training -- Jeannie and I have had great luck with this form of dog training. I can't help but drool every time I see the little device.

Since you're very new to the concept of clicker training, I wanted to share a resource that has really helped us. I hope that my blog friend, Honey the Great Dane, won't mind me referring you to her site. This information is amazing and the videos are brilliant. Please check it out:
(Scroll down to "Introduction to Clicker Training")

Good luck! :)

- Mayli the Labradane

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