Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Clicking Away

So, I've been having a lot of fun with this whole clicker training thing. I have the most fun with Jack Jack, because he clearly enjoys the challenge as much as the reward, and he will try all kinds of things to see what I want.

He now licks his lips on command about 75% of the time when I say "yummy!," after less than a total of 20 minutes of training. He'll get more consistent as we keep practising and working in various areas. He knows that when I say "Go to your bed" he should find his dog blanket and sit on it. He picks up the dumbbell (no cue added yet) and touches a step stool. I want to progress to him putting his front feet on the stool, laying down on the dog bed and picking up and holding the dumbbell. I know we'll get there :)

I've been working with Grace as well, but she is not the type to try anything for a treat. She has been clicker trained since she was a baby, but I used mostly luring (instead of shaping), so she's used to relying on getting direction from me instead of figuring out what I want. This makes our progress somewhat slower . . . but it's coming along. She has learned to go and sit on the dog bed . . . I'm not sure she's completely associated the sit with the bed, as sometimes she sits OFF the dog bed and looks for a click/treat, but it's coming. I'm not sure what we'll work on next, but maybe 101 Things With A Box.

This has taught me to be more observant of what the dog is doing, since clicker training (shaping) is all about catching your dog doing something, and clicking that action. This has also taught me better timing (clicking too late or too early reinforces the wrong action). And it has taught me that dogs can learn fast if they really want to!

Clicker training doesn't have to use treats as a reward. You can use praise, play or anything else as a reward. In fact, every time you ask your dog to sit before opening the door to the backyard, this is called using the Premack Principle - which is that if the dog does one thing, they get to do something inherently rewarding. Another example is taking your dog to the offleash park, and occasionally calling them back to you, and then releasing them for more play. Every time you call the dog and then release it to play, it learns that coming when called means FUN!

The theory is that the clicker runs on a pathway through the brain's amygdala, which is the most ancient portion of the brain. Responses from the amygdala are fear and startle responses (like us being afraid when we hear a car backfire, thinking it's gunfire). You don't learn those responses, they're just a part of you. For some reason, science is showing that when an animal is clicker trained, they retain the responses longer, and the responses become ingrained.

A real life example is Jack Jack, who is very afraid of other dogs. Even when he's walking past the dog park (we don't go in, we walk along the outside of the fence) and he starts barking (aka freaking out) at another dog, I can get his attention and calm him down by having him give me a high five. That was one of his earliest clicker trained behaviors, and he NEVER fails to respond to my cue (my hand, fingers up and palm forward in a "gimme 5" signal).I know I sound like a fanatic (and maybe I am!), but my experience has been so positive with this method of training. If I can ever answer questions or provide links to resources, please ask!

1 comment:

Brenda said...

I am loving your posts on clicker training! Remi has had a fear of dogs since we got him at 6months of age. Doing a lot of dog obidience courses, dog agility helps a lot, but I find he get's to know THOSE dogs and it great, but when he see's a new dog, it's like starting all over with him. Our trainer talked me out of clicker training because if I use a word for praise, I will be sure to "always have it with me". But I have heard great things from clicker training, I think it's the next step for us (and a lot of fun too)....keep up the clicker training posts (It's interesting to me how each dog has a slightly different learning method too)