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Canine University 71 Clinton St. Malden, MA


How We Train

Are You a Stingy Clicker?

A common trait in new dog trainers is that they are stingy with the clicks and treats. Remember that the sound of the clicker is information to your dog. Without the right amount of information it will be impossible for him to figure out what part of what he is doing is right. The more information he has, the quicker he will figure out what it is that is rewardable and repeat that behavior over and over. When training a new behavior you should be clicking and treating fairly frequently...if you aren't than you probably have not set your dog up well enough to succeed at whatever you are trying to teach him.

Using a lure in training is a great way to get behavior started, but it can often get in the way of learning if it not faded quickly. A lure is a treat held in your hand that helps guide your dog into the right position. Using a lure for too long a period of time with a very food motivated dog will result in a dog that turns his brain off and follows the food instead of executing behaviors, as he knows they will earn him his click (and, secondarily, his treat). Fading lures is easy if you start right away, it's more time consuming if your dog has become dependent upon them. The general rule that I have for fading lures is to do the first six repetitions with a lure and then the remainder without. This is not a black and white rule however, and there are times when going back to using a lure for a few repetitions is perfectly fine to get the behavior started again. When you begin the repetitions without a lure, hold your hand the same way you would if you had a lure in it, get the dog to do the behavior, and click and treat.

Shaping behaviors is easy if you know exactly what you want as the end behavior and slowly shape it, step by step, until the dog is doing the final behavior without a lot of prompting or help from you. This is where frequent clicks and treats come into play and are so important for your dog's overall success. Lets take the example of shaping your dog to go lie on a mat or bed. Put the mat in the middle of the floor and click and treat anytime your dog sniffs at it, looks at it, or moves toward it. Click any of these behavior for the first minute and then move on to the next criteria. The next step might be moving toward the blanket or putting a paw on it. Click and treat any version of that for the next minute. The next criteria might be to get both paws on the mat or have the dog walk further onto it. You may be luring some of this in the beginning by putting a treat on middle of the mat, or you may simply wait until the dog offers the behavior on its on.

Using jackpots (a handful of treats) to let your dog know when they have made the right choice is an excellent way to help beef up your dog's progress and reach your ultimate goal faster. Remember not to lure for more than a couple of repetitions...you should then give the dog time to think about how to make you click. Continue to shift your criteria until your dog has his whole body on the mat. You may then want to add a down/stay to it and stretch out your clicks and treats by more seconds until your dog is going to the mat and doing a down/stay for several minutes. You can even make it harder by putting the mat across the room or in different rooms and sending your dog to it. You can also add distractions by doing it when you have company or when visiting a friend's house. Remember: when you change anything, the behavior may fall apart a bit and you may have to go back and reteach and review pieces of it to make it so your dog can be successful.

Rapid clicking and treating for a behavior that the dog is holding (and/or a behavior which was a long time in coming) is an excellent way to help your dog figure out what part about what he is doing is correct. For instance, for the longest time your dog has been wandering toward the mat but has only put the barest hint of a toe on the edge of it. You've withheld your clicking and treating for a few seconds to see if she'll try harder to get you to click and all of a sudden she walks across the middle of the blanket. You click/treat, click/treat, rapid fire for about 8-10 seconds and she starts to get it ! Being on the blanket is better than going around it, hurray ! Using rapid fire clicking and treating will help you communicate to your dog that she is on the right track, and will help you ultimately achieve your goal faster and more permanently.

So the lesson here is: don't be a stingy clicker! Click and treat your dog frequently for the right behaviors, so that she will gain confidence in knowing when she is on the right track. If you feel you can't click and treat more frequently because your dog is making too many mistakes, you have not set your dog up to be successful, and you need to think harder about how to change the environment and variables so that your dog can be right more often.

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