Friday, January 14, 2011

Clicker Training: The Basics

Continuing on from the last post, where I introduced clicker training, you might now be wondering - How do you get started?

First, you go out and pick up a clicker. I always get questions on where to get reasonably priced clickers. If you are in the Charlottetown area, my two favorite places are the Atlantic Vet College (about $2) or the PEI Humane Society, as I don't believe you need to spend a fortune on clickers. You can also check your local vet clinic, as many of them sell clickers too.

So, now you have a clicker and are ready to start teaching!

The basic recipe for clicker training is as follows:
- Get the behaviour
- Mark the behaviour (Click!)
- Reward

How do I "get the behaviour"?

There are three main ways to get the desired behaviour: Capturing, Luring, and Shaping.

Capturing: As the name implies, capturing works by looking for and marking behaviours that the dog is offering freely, ones that come naurally to the dog (such as sitting). Capturing is a great way to teach simple behaviours, or to promote general good manners.

Luring: This is generally used to teach those behaviours that can't be captured because they don't occur naturally (like a Spin) or they occur infrequently so that capturing is not very effective.

They key to using luring effectively is to fade out the lure as soon as possible so that your dog doesn't become dependent upon it to do the behavior. So you might lure a couple of times and then stop and see if the dog will then offer it on its own. More on that later.

Shaping: Shaping is generally used when teaching those tricks or skills that are more complex, and that would never be offered naturally and are made up of many smaller behaviours. An example would be teaching your dog to pick up toys and put them in a basket. Shaping requires breaking the finished product down into many finer parts and rewarding successive movements toward the final goal. It's a little more complex than luring or capturing, but it creates some fabulous, strong behaviours.

So, you've chosen what you want to teach, and how you are going to teach it - now what?

Let's take a step back. First you might want to practice with the clicker and teach your dog that the CLICK sound has a meaning, which is that a reward has been earned. This is simple to do. You will simply gather your clicker and 20 or so tiny little treats. (Note: Tiny means tiny! Just a little nibble, enough so that your dog knows it won the prize, but not so big as to fill your dog up with treats!)

So you have your clicker, your treats. Now get your dog, find a quiet room with minimal distractions, so your dog won't wander away and do something else, and sit or stand with your dog. All you are going to do is click your clicker, and give your dog a treat.

Click, then treat.

Make sure there is a small delay between the click sound and the delivery of the treat. If you treat while you click, your dog may not hear it and little to no association may be made. The treat must come after the click.

So, you will click and give a treat until you have given ten treats. Take a 30 second break or so, and then repeat with the other ten treats. After you do that, your dog will have a basic understanding of what the clicker means. Now, you can get to training!

In the next posting, I will describe how you will teach a fun, useful, and good starter behaviour- Targeting. Stay tuned!

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