Timing Your Click Correctly
Now here's a case where a class (or a well-run seminar) is a GOOD idea, because the nuts and bolts of just HOW to use a clicker really seem to elude some folks until they get an opportunity to see it in action.
I have heard it said that the biggest mistake made by beginning clicker trainers is that they click too late. Another statement you will hear that relates to that is "Click early!" and that it is always better to click early than to click late.
So what does this actually mean while you're training your dog?
Let's suppose you've decided you want to teach your dog to touch a margarine lid you have placed on the floor. You place the margarine lid and settle back to wait, treats ready in a bowl and thumb poised over the tab of your clicker.
On the assumption the dog sees the margarine lid and decides to touch it (and let's use that assumption for this example), here's the sequence the dog goes through:
A person could probably break this down into even SMALLER increments of the behavior, but I think this will do for now! ;-) Okay - when do you click, and what are the repercussions of your choice?
Well, ideally, you would click for #5, at the EXACT moment when "Dog touches nose to margarine lid". And sometimes, with practice, you will. But more often, your timing will be a little off, and you will end up clicking either a bit AFTER the dog touches his nose to the margarine lid or a bit BEFORE. What would happen in each example?
If you click late, you have now clicked the dog for #6 "Dog pulls nose away from margarine lid" or perhaps for #7, "Dog begins turning head away from margarine lid" and what you have taught the dog is that he gets rewarded for turning his head AWAY from the margarine lid. In time, if you are consistent with your late clicking, you may succeed in teaching your dog to never touch the margarine lid at all!
Now take a look at what happens if you work on clicking *early*, but with the goal of continuing to refine your timing towards being able to click at the precise moment when the dog touches his nose to the margarine lid.
For starters, let's say you click for #3, "Dog begins to lower head towards margarine lid". Click ends the behavior, and dog returns to you for his treat. But that's okay. You do it again, and this time try to delay your click just a little. So next time the dog's head is a bit closer to the margarine lid when you click, and the dog returns to you for his treat.
Eventually, by delaying the click a bit each time, you will be clicking for #4, "Dog finishes lowering head towards margarine lid" and finally #5, "Dog touches nose to margarine lid". You will not have taught the dog to do something which is not geared *towards* your final objective. Your dog will be offering you "margarine lid touches" because he will have learned that this is what nets him the click and treat.
You can extend the "margarine lid scenario" to help you visualize what can happen if you click late for a "Sit". If you begin by clicking *as the dog's butt is approaching the floor*, and eventually delay your clicks until you are clicking *just as the dog's butt hits the floor*, the dog will succeed in learning that it is "butt hitting the floor" that you are after. Once this is solidly learned - and I repeat - *once this is solidly learned* - you can begin to delay the click to extend the duration of the sits. But these increases in duration must be TINY in order to give your dog the opportunity to succeed rather than to fail.
If you begin to push duration too soon (i.e. begin delaying the click for "Sit" before the dog is solid on "Sit") you may find that you are clicking *as the dog is beginning to get up*. And you have now clicked the dog for *getting up* from a Sit - not your intention at all!
If you think about it, clicking for a sit of increased duration is *still* clicking during the behavior. Once you have progressed to this point, you are no longer clicking for the *act* of sitting, but for the *holding* of the "Sit" position.
There is really not an example I can think of where you click *after* the desired behavior, because the click always marks for your dog exactly *what* behavior is going to earn the reward. Your job is to continue being extremely alert to exactly what message you are sending to your dog by way of what and when you choose to click, and learning to fine tune that message if your dog's behavior indicates that somehow you have been sending a different message than the one which you intended to send.
I hope this helps you to visualize things a little more clearly.
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