Four of my dogs
are rescues, and two are ten month old pups right now. The pups began
clicker training at 8 weeks, as soon as they arrived!
basic clicker suggestions:
train one dog at a time in isolation. However, if you can manage to
put in a long enough time, if you do the dogs one after the other,
you will find they will become very excited and anxious to be trained.
("I want to be next!!!") If you do this, vary the order
each day. (I'll bet you've seen this already!)
- Stick to
short sessions of no more than ten minutes. For a pup, five is good.
Then try to do two or three sessions a day of you can.
- If both you
and your husband are going to be training:
- It is
usually preferable for ONE person to train a particluar activity
first in a dog, and not share the training. So if you train Rex
to Sit and Stay, YOU should continue that training until Rex really
has it down and the command has been attached. Then your husband
can start trying the Sit and Stay with Rex. It is sometimes confusing
if two people try to train the same activity with the same dog
during the same period of time. Since you have so many, maybe
you could divide them up between the two of you, then switch groups
every few weeks?
- If two
people are training the same dog--even if not in the same activity--make
sure the two of you get together and agree and rehearse your training
habits. You both want to do everything as similarly as possible.
If you husband says, "Come!" in a loud voice, and you
say it in a quiet voice, confusion! If you use a hand signal when
you say "Sit" and your husband uses a different one,
confusion! (And most people use hand signals and body language
unconsciously! Watch yourself in the mirror sometimes when you
train!) So get your signals, words, and movements coordinated.
- One of the
problems many new clicker trainers encounter after a short while is
overfed dogs! You can deal with this (assuming you are using mostly
food treats as rewards) in several ways:
no more than 1/3 of each dogs breakfast and/or dinner kibble and
use it to reward training. Then subtract that amount from the
- Mix up
your rewards. A food treat for a few successes. Then a few minutes
playing with a favorite toy for the next one. Etc. Sometimes,
the very object you are training with can become its own reward.
For example, when I taught my Rottie pup to "Drop it"
using a tug toy, I at frist rewarded by offering a treat. (That's
the way to get started with "Drop it!" While the dog
has a toy in its mouth, you offer a food treat which is more desireable
than the toy, and the dog drops the toy to get the food.) However,
once the pup got the idea, the reward for dropping the tug toy
became giving her back the same tug toy!
food rewards as small as possible to still be effective. Many
beginners give treats that are much too large. If you are using
any type of treat right out of the bag, it is too large! I purchase
large canisters of freeze-dried liver. The cubes of liver are
a little larger than dice. I cut each cube into 8 smaller cubes,
each the size of a pea or smaller! Experiment with how little
you can get away with.
is my best trick, and I credit it to myself since I thought it
up, even though I am sure many others have used it before me!
It works especially well with puppies and smaller dogs, but can
work well with larger dogs also. Go to the supermarket and buy
those tiny cans of babyfood! Buy only pure meat varieties. I use
Gerber Beef and Broth.
one jar for each dog. At training time, open the top, and hold
the jar in one hand, or keep it nearby. For each reward, simply
stick one finger into the babyfood, removing literally a "dab"
of the stuff on your finger tip, and give a lick. The babyfood
is tasty and meaty enough that a small amount will usually be
quite acceptable to most dogs as a reward, it is very easy to
dispense (no holding bits of solid food in your hand, pocket,
etc.), and you use so little, you can train a medium size dog
for several days on one tiny 4 0z. can! Also, if you ever get
into target training where you train the dog to touch its nose
on a certain spot, a dab of babyfood sticks anywhere and is the
perfect tool! The only counterindication for the bnaby food technique
is if you have a SHARK who likes to bite the food out of your
hand! (BTW, a doog way to retrain this, is to close your fist
around a nugget of food. Let the dog sniff, lick, bite, whatever,
but do not open the hand and give the food until it is acting
gently. Deliver the food at first from the open palm of your hand,
and gradually work up to finger-held delivery. If biting begins
again, back the food goes into a closed fist!)
- Train all
the dogs for ATTENTION. The most important skill you will ever teach
the clicker in one hand and a food treat in the other while kneeling
or sitting in front of the sitting dog.
both arms straight out to your sides, so the clicker and treat
are on opposite sides, at about shoulder height, as far as you
can reach away from your body.
wait for the dog to look at YOU! To get the treat, the dog must
glance at your face, if ever so briefly. As soon as it does, click
and give it the treat in that other hand. Repeat at least 10 times
- If the
dog goes for the treat, or offers any unwanted behavior, ignore
it. Just put enough effort in to keep the treat away from the
dog. (Raise the arm.) Ignore everything except looking at your
face. The split second you get a glance, click and treat.
This exercise trains the dog to pay attention to you. It counteracts
the notion that the food reward is the important thing and shows
that YOU are the key to the reward. So it deemphasizes the reinforcer
and emphasizes you as the master. If done day after day, the dog
will develop an automatic reflex to look at you the second you
call its name. (When begun with pups, it can become a dramatic
life-long response--they will literally SNAP their necks toward
you every time you say their names!)
and Increasing the Difficulty:
should be added once the dog gets the basic exercise and does
it well and consistently.
dogs, you will soon find out that some pick up certain skills much
faster than others. Rather than chart a program that you will follow
with all the dogs, be observant of their differences. One dog may
master the first five behaviors in one week and never need to be trained
again, while another will need endless repetiton for months! Go with
the dog's talents, and do not bore fast-learners by needlessly repeating
exercises they already have mastered. Instead, add some difficulty
to the exercise. (Like master the one minute sit-stay with you five
feet away, then go for a two minute sit-stay with you sitting in a
chair ten feet away!)
start requiring that the dog look at you for a longer time. Where
you may have clicked for a quick glance at first, start expecting
two seconds, then four seconds, up to about ten. This is called
"raising the bar" or "differential reinforcement."
It simply means you keep requiring a little more difficulty to
get the treat.
the clicker and treat to the other hand.
your hands in different positions--above your head, or the ultimate
challenge--resting on your lap!
saying the dog's name to command the attention.
work toward doing the exercise from a standing position, and also
farther from the dog. (A step at a time!)
important principle: The dog should always have more successes than
failures. The dog should always end a session on a success. So if
you find a dog goofing up a lot, go back to a simpler exercise that
it can easily do to boost its confidence. Never allow many successive
failures in a row! Whatever you may be training, your main goal is
always to have the dog succeeding most of the time!
most people drastically underestimate the power of dogs to learn quickly
through positive methods like clicker training. Pups especially soak
up command s like sponges! I always tell the story of how I clicker
trained my then 9 week old Rottie pup to Sit, and do a one minute
sit-stay in two five minute sessions on the same day. That was it.
Eight months later, he still does them with almost a 100% compliance,
and I have never practiced or retreained him after thart ten minutes.
So be prepared to be amazed, and do not let your misconceoptions slow
down pups and dogs that can go faster than'you would believe. Always
evaluate what you see before planning what comes next!
give you some things to work on. The Attention Exercise is absolutely
worth its weight in gold! Definitely work on it. It is a good one to
begin each session with.
Copyright 2002 Barry McDonald
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