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Having your dog understand a nose touch is a powerful tool that can be used to accomplish a variety of things. It is particularly useful with fearful, reactive and rambunctious dogs because it gives you a way to safely interact with the dog to remove them from furniture or get them out of undesirable situations, to distract them in stressful environments and to help them meet dogs or people in an appropriate manner. Many agility competitors will also teach their dogs to do a nose touch to a “dot” which is typically a plastic lid from a yogurt container or something similar. This makes for excellent contact training on the A-Frame, Teeter and Dog Walk. If your dog is reactive and/or aggressive, please see a reputable trainer who understands clicker training for help with your dog.
Your goal with the nose touch is to have your dog touch the palm of your hand with their nose. To accomplish this simply hold your hand a few inches away from your dog’s nose. Most dogs will have a natural inclination to reach their head forward and sniff your hand. When they sniff your hand, click and give a treat with your other hand. Once your dog consistently reaches out and touches your hand with their nose after you have clicked and treated a few times, begin moving your hand and getting your dog to follow it, eventually ending with a touch.
If your dog begins mouthing your hand, it means you are clicking and rewarding too late and your dog is becoming frustrated as a result. If your dog begins to do “phantom touches” where they do not quite touch your hand, you are clicking too soon and should wait until your dog accurately touches your hand before you click. The fussier you are with this exercise, the more accurate your dog will be with their nose touch! You can even get specific as to what part of your hand you want touched.
Once your dog can easily follow your random hand movements, you can label your dog’s action. We simply call it “touch” but as with any verbal cue you can call it whatever you would like. You can also give it different labels when you use it in different situations. You can use it to get your dog into “heel” position next to you and to help teach them to walk next to you by holding your hand at your hip and getting your dog to follow it as you walk, clicking and rewarding when your dog is nice and close. You can also use it to safely get feisty fidos off furniture. To do so, first get the dog to follow your hand up onto the furniture, click and reward, then get them to follow your hand target off the furniture, click and reward. If your dog enjoys guarding the furniture, this will be effective but you must make sure you have built up a significant reward history with the nose touch before introducing it in these situations because it will have to outweigh the value of the comfy couch, bed or chair. You should spend at least three weeks working on developing a solid nose touch before using it in this type of situation.
The nose touch is also effective when dealing with reactive dogs who do not like encountering strangers (people and other dogs) on their walks. Once you have built significant value for the nose touch in a low distraction environment, you can take your show on the road and start to use it to distract your dog from incoming strangers if they have a tendency to meltdown. To do so, simply ask your dog to touch your hand the instant they see an incoming stranger, before they have a chance to react and then calmly get them to follow your hand target in the opposite direction, across the street or up a nearby driveway to create distance between your dog and the offensive passer-by so your dog will be more comfortable. You can then continue to ask for a nose touch as the person and/or dog is passing by to help keep your dog happy and calm. If your dog does have a meltdown they are simply too close to the thing they don’t like and the next time you will know to provide them with more distance. Gradually you should be able to get closer to the stranger and your dog should be able to stay calm because they will associate the stranger with a fun game of hand targeting.
If your dog is a bit shy with strange people or dogs but not reactive, you can use the nose touch to help boost their confidence by giving them a new way to interact with strangers. You can label the nose touch as “go say hi” and instruct approaching strangers to present their open hand to your dog. Your dog should approach, touch the stranger’s hand with their nose and when you click, come back to you for their reward. You can also experiment and see if they will take the reward from the stranger so your dog will develop even more of a positive association with their new friend. When you are dealing with a new dog, preferably one who is confident and calm, you can instruct your dog to “go say hi” and then place your hand near the hind end of the dog to help your dog perform a polite meet and greet. Again, once you click your dog will likely come back to you for a reward so if your dog presents some lovely greeting rituals on their own, do not interrupt it with your clicker. Eventually, you can fade your hand target out of the situation and simply ask your dog to “go say hi.”
If you are interested in learning more about why targets are so effective, there is an excellent section in Karen Pryor’s recent book “Reaching the Animal Mind” that discusses in detail why targets work to help animals cope with stressful situations.
We love Silvia’s kind and effective approach to dog training. If you are faced with the challenge of a resource guarder or an obsessive dog, remember when you provide your dog with plenty, not only will you be perceived as a mindful leader but you will also have the luxury of a world of rewards to use when you are training.
Learning theory does not generally provide the punch line to many jokes or get much attention by the media, but occasionally it finds its way into today’s pop culture. A recent example of this is compliments of one of our favorite sitcoms, “The Office.”
If you are not a fan, the Office portrays life in a quirky paper company that accentuates some of the less than ideal working conditions most people have to endure at some point in their lives. A subpar boss, the office lush, eccentric coworker etc., make this show highly entertaining.
At the beginning of the episode titled “Dwight Helps Michael Prepare,” mischievous office prankster Jim conditions Dwight to want an Altoid every time he hears Jim’s computer boot up. Jim accomplishes this in much the same way Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov did back in the early 1900’s when he first noticed his experimental dogs would start to salivate as soon as they saw people in lab coats. With limited stimuli in the environment, the dogs realized most times they were approached by a person in a lab coat, they were subsequently fed. Pavlov (who was initially just interested in studying digestive systems) noticed this and began experimenting to see what else could get the dogs to salivate. He knew it was the dogs’ natural response to salivate in the presence of food to help with its digestion so he paired it with a completely unrelated event, the ringing of a bell, and found that once the dogs had made the connection between the two, they would start to salivate as soon as they heard the bell. You can play a game here thanks to the folks at NobelPrize.org that will take you through the steps of getting a dog to salivate when they hear a previously irrelevant sound.
So what does this have to do with dog training? Well, from Pavlov’s research stems clicker training. Similar to how Jim conditioned Dwight to respond to the noise his computer makes, we also condition dogs to respond to a click from a clicker. This is often referred to as “charging” the clicker and it is the very first step you must take for clicker training to be effective. Pavlov’s experiments showed us the most effective way to create associations between previously unrelated stimuli is to make sure you click before you present the food and to make the delay between the click and food delivery as short as possible so the dog will easily connect the two events. Once your dog understands what the click means, you can start to use it to shape amazing behaviors and to effectively countercondition your dog to things he may be nervous or afraid of.
Thank you Ivan Pavlov for laying the groundwork for the best dog training practices available and thanks to the folks at the Office for putting a funny spin on the science behind conditioning!
We’ve all seen them – the dogs who take their owners for a walk as they pull them down the sidewalk at break neck speeds. When puppies are very young, they are not capable nor do many want to pull their people down the street. In fact, we often hear the complaint that a new puppy doesn’t want to walk at all. So how does it get from one extreme to another?
The first thing to consider is it takes two to tango and it takes two to pull. When your young puppy becomes more adventurous, he will begin to enjoy smelling new smells and meeting new people and these will be very rewarding experiences for him. When you allow him to do these things while he is pulling or lunging forward, you are telling him he is being a good dog and you really like it when he pulls you toward things by giving him access to these things. If having a dog walk politely and safely on a loose leash is important to you, then you have to make sure your puppy does not get rewarded for moving forward on a tight leash. Timing and clear communication are important here. With a Clicker Leash, simply click as soon as your puppy offers you any slack in the leash and then reward by moving forward, being sure to stop again if the leash becomes tight. Make sure your puppy does not get access to people and places when their leash is tight. You may feel like you are playing a game of red light green light but with young puppies this method will typically begin to work quickly as long as your timing is good and you are consistent. If you allow your puppy to pull occasionally, they will try more and more often to do so in the hopes that they will get to whatever it is they want to explore even faster.
This method has proven to be effective with many puppies but the easiest way to train a dog to walk beside you and something that makes the red light/green light technique even more powerful is rewarding the dog for passive attention.
Begin by clicking and rewarding any attention your dog gives you. Do not ask for your dog to “watch” or “look” or try to get their attention. Just observe them as you are walking and if they pay any attention to you, click and reward next to your side closest to the dog. For some dogs this may be as little as an ear twitch or brief glance in your direction. Don’t reach out with the treat, feed it at your leg to build some reward value for the space around you. As your dog comes to understand that orienting to you and walking near you is a rewarding activity, he will begin to offer you more attention for longer periods of time. As you practice this activity, you can increase your expectations and begin delaying your click for longer periods of time, gradually fading out the click and rewards when your dog is conditioned to walk nicely beside you. Make sure to practice around a lot of distractions that your dog is challenged with on a regular basis, rewarding heavily if your dog can maintain their focus on you as you approach and pass the distractions.
We first learned about passive attention exercises in Leslie McDevitt’s wonderful book “Control Unleashed” and Jane Killion’s equally amazing “When Pigs Fly.” If you have a difficult-to-train dog, one that becomes overexcited and reactive or shuts down due to fear, these two books paired with a Clicker Leash will help you effectively nurture your dog through their issues.
It is always surprising how much people will protest the use of food in dog training. Time and again it is argued that the dog shouldn’t work for food, they should be working for YOU. It is true that some dogs enjoy working just for the sake of working (Border Collies come to mind). Other dogs are perfectly content to work for verbal praise or attention from their owner. We often call these the “what can I do for you” dogs. However, there is nothing shameful about owning a “what can you do for me” dog and more often this is the case. Dogs are reknown opportunists. If there is a way to create pleasure for themselves, they usually find it. If they see you as a reliable source of pleasure, whether it come in the form of food, praise or play, then at the very least you will have a nice foundation for a strong bond between you and your dog. This is a worst case scenario if your timing happens to be off with your rewards, if you don’t know how to fade rewards out and put them on an intermittent schedule or if you bribe your dog by always giving commands with food in your hand. At the very least your dog will still really like you!
Here at the Clicker Leash Co. we enjoy watching trainers like Victoria Stilwell and Zak George on Animal Planet. In Stilwell’s case she is normally called in to deal with unruly behaviour. She uses positive reinforcement to teach incompatible, desirable behaviors to replace the stuff that drives most owners nuts. On George’s new show Super Fetch, he teaches really cool and practical tricks to dogs, again, using positive reinforcement. George refers to the rewards as “currency.” We like this because it helps people see the reward for what it is. Most people don’t love their jobs and wouldn’t perform daily tasks if it weren’t for the pay cheque they receive every two weeks. Of course people would probably be more productive if their rewards were tied more closely to the individual tasks but that just isn’t practical for most employers. Fortunately it is practical for most people to do when they are training their dogs!
In one of his recent blog posts on Dog Star Daily, Eric Goebelbecker discusses “5 Myths About Training Dogs with Treats.” Check out his post for some great arguments on why it is OK to use treats to help teach your dog new behaviours. If you have been having problems with your dog training and haven’t tried rewards to motivate your dog, what have you got to lose? Remember, only your dog can determine what is rewarding so experiment to see what really gets the tail wagging! Happy training!
A popular example among positive dog trainers to illustrate the ineffectiveness of punishment is traffic tickets. North American culture tends to focus on punishing unwanted behaviors like speeding instead of recognizing desirable behaviors like driving your car at the appropriate speed. Now Cape Town Traffic Services in Africa is experimenting with positive reinforcement to see if it can improve road safety.
The department will be rewarding motorists for “gold star” behavior with engraved pens and key rings. Good behaviour will include not getting angry or upsetting other road users, signalling well in advance when changing lanes, slowing down on freeways to allow space for motorists entering from an on-ramp, keeping intersections clear in heavy traffic, and raising a hand to thank fellow motorists instead of using the emergency flashers. Of course, this is creating debate almost as hot as a Victoria Stilwell vs. Cesar Millan dispute with the nay-sayers chiming in with their usual pessimism. Hopefully the department will measure and publish the results of this experiment.
Cape Town police are not alone in thinking positive reinforcement can change behavior. Volkswagen launched their “Fun Theory Campaign” this fall and it is already a viral sensation with millions of views on You Tube. The car manufacturer’s ad agency DDB Stockholm, based their new campaign on the idea that “fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better.” For example, the team set out to see if they could increase the number of people who would opt to take a set of stairs instead of a nearby escalator by making it fun to take the stairs. They changed the stairs into a giant, functional piano that was activated when people stepped onto the stairs. They found a 66% increase in the number of people who chose the stairs when they were made “fun.” You can view this and the two other videos the company has created in the first stage of their campaign at www.thefuntheory.com.
What does all of this have to do with dog training? Well, if we can change people’s current perception about rewards and punishment in human learning then it will be much easier to get people to Train Humane with their pets. Once reward-based principles become mainstream, we will see an increase in people treating their dogs with respect and love and getting great results.
The queen of clicker training, Karen Pryor, released her new book “Reaching the Aninal Mind” yesterday and the launch garnered her a spot on Good Morning America. Kudos Karen! If you missed the show you can watch it here. Karen demonstrated clicker training with a bouncy five-month-old Golden Retriever puppy who had been recently adopted by one of the show’s staff members. She worked with the puppy for ten minutes the day before and taught it a nose touch on her hand, explaining that this was a foundation behavior that could be used to get the pup to go wherever you would like without using force. She had the puppy jump onto the couch and then jump off (it was very good at jumping on her too!).
We are happy Karen got the exposure that she did for clicker training but we would have liked to have seen a clearer explanation as to how people can incorporate it into their everyday lives and all of the benefits that come with this method like the enriched bond it forms between human and canine, the speed with which animals learn, the safety of clicker training and the fact that you don’t always have to use food treats to reward the dog. The host even made a comment about all of the treats and the dog getting fat. In our opinion, this is one of the greatest obstacles for clicker training. People who don’t understand conditioned responses and the fact that you gradually eliminate your rewards when you use clicker training argue that the dog isn’t working for the person, they are just working for the food. It is important that people know they can use ANYTHING the animal wants or needs to make clicker training work for them and this point was not driven home. If you control the resources, you control the dog.
Could Karen have won over a lot of dominance-based trainers and people who love dog whispering by explaining that a clicker helps them control the resources in their dog’s life thus making the person important to the dog? We have found that when you use clicker training, you become the gateway to wonderful things which helps instil a great deal of respect between you and your dog. Hopefully this is just the beginning of clicker training’s journey into the mainstream and as we all get more practiced at speaking with the media we will be able to clearly get our key messages across and make an impact on the general dog owning public.