ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Clicking in a Traditional Class

If you don't have the opportunity to take a clicker class, you sometimes have to make due.

First, discuss your plans with the instructor, and make sure it's okay to bring your clicker. Since you'll be "doing your own thing," so you want to be certain you don't abuse the privilege.

  • Try to be as unobtrusive as possible. Even though you're not using the instructor's methods, try to follow his class plan as much as possible.
  • If someone asks questions about what you're doing, answer honestly, but don't try to convince them to change methods. Offer your e-mail address or phone number if they want more info, or offer to discuss it in more depth after class.
  • Don't say *anything* negative about the instructor, the methods, or any part of the class. It will reflect poorly on you and clicker training, and it will make the instructor less open to people "doing their own thing."
  • Before class starts, speak to the instructor about corrections. If you're panning not to use any, tell him. Make sure he understands that you won't be squirting the dog for barking, or collar popping for misbehaving, or forcing the dog to do an exercise he hasn't learned yet.
  • Ask him not to use your dog for demos -- simply explain that you're new at this and would prefer no one else handled the dog. It's a common request.

Second, to lessen the stress on you and your puppy, try to work a week ahead of everyone else. You want your dog to "know" the behaviors before he comes to class, so you won't feel pressured to force him into compliance for a behavior he doesn't know. Call the instructor and ask what behaviors will be practiced in the first class.

There are certain behaviors you probably ought to have pretty solid before going in: attention, sit, and loose-leash walking.

Attention is the single most important thing. Truly. If your dog doesn't learn how to focus in strange environments BEFORE going to class, you won't be able to get his attention, even with treats.

I would take him out to a new place (fairly boring -- like the far end of the PetSmart parking lot) every night for a week before class. Put him on a six foot leash. Get out of the car and... wait. Don't call him. Don't wave food around. Just wait. As soon as he glances at you, click and treat. Keep doing that until he's focused on you, then you can practice some behaviors he knows (or work on sit or loose-leash walking).

Loose-leash walking and a sit-at-heel is something I would practice only because traditional classes seem to dwell on this exercise from the very beginning. Lots of boring heeling drills. I promise -- the better your puppy is at this, the happier you will be.

The secret is maintaining a high rate of reinforcement while the puppy is in the correct position. Don't be afraid to feed treats pretty rapidly or pretty constantly. Use small, soft, gooey treats that don't have to be chewed, and (though I may get lambasted for mentioning this) I wouldn't use the clicker. Just shovel treats. Practice lots of starts and stops, with just 1-5 steps in between, having him sit every time you stop.

I tried taking my dog to a traditional class. I admit, I wasn't successful. I found myself frustrated with my puppy and with myself after every class. I felt pressured to perform to an artificial standard -- because the other students were modeling their dogs and correcting them, they "appeared" to be performing better than my puppy.

Your puppy is the only thing that matters. Do only what makes you feel good about him. Don't risk your relationship for the sake of that class.

Melissa Alexander
mca @
copyright 1999 Melissa Alexander


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