ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Kids and ClickerTraining

>> I have a client who wants me to teach her 4 year old to train their 8 month old mixed breed puppy who weighs about 25 lbs right now.

Four year olds generally are too busy working on stuff like speach and language development, eye hand co-ordination, balance and so on to need to add using a discrimination tool like the clicker to the balance...but Mom and Dad have high hopes for einstein jr. here is what I have done to help.

Sure, you can have the kid participate in training the dog. His job is going to be VERY important, so it is vital that you get him to help. But lets make sure that everyone has a job appropriate to his or her abilities. Put Einstein up on a chair, standing up facing backwards. he gets to stand like a dolphin trainer over a pool. fluffums gets to be the dolphin. Mom or dad gets to be the coach. At first they need to practice this dolphin training for the dog. So the coach (mom or dad) gets to click. Kid gets to toss the fish (treat). Dolphin (the dog) gets to catch the treat. Practice until everyone is good at this part...that would be charging up the clicker. Don't worry too much about the treat occasionally coming without a click...learning trainers make mistakes, dolphins like to vaccuum and mom and dad are kept busy not noticing that kidlet isn't clicking.

Once everyone is good at their jobs, teach mom and dad to "mark" what the kid gets to reward with the clicker. Kid must be reliable with only treating when a click is heard. I usually use sit as the first behaviour because most adults can learn to recognize the sit quickly and easily. So we wait for the dolphin to sit, the coach clicks, the kid treats. Practice until the sequence is really reliable. Remember that dolphin trainers drop, not hand food to the dolphin. And keep in mind that dolphins aren't allowed to push the chair over in anticipation of the food. Non compliance means that you have to take a turn away from your roll for a few minutes.

Only when the "dolphin" is offering the behaviour would you name when the dolphin is sitting ask the dolphin trainer what he wants to call the behaviour. Sit would be logical...but I have one client who tells his dog to Park it...not important, the dog will learn the behaviour quickly enough and can learn several signals for any given behaviour. So the next time the dog does the behaviour the coach asks the kid "what do we call this?" the kid says the word and then the coach clicks and the kid feeds. repeat until the kid can cue the behaviour.

Once this step is reliable then you get the kid to cue the behaviour and the kid can treat without the click...not strictly according to hoyle if you are following the methods exactly but this does work (I do it with my neice who is three). Kid says sit, dog sits, kid drops food. repeat.

Now...if the parents can get this sequence down with their kid, they are doing well...if the kid looses interest around step two...then you can get on with training the adults. VbG. but I do a lot with kids standing on chairs being dolphin trainers. It puts the kid in a position to control the dog without physically interacting with him. it takes the risk of a fast treat grabber grabbing little fingers away. It teaches the dog that small people can also cue behaviours and reward for them. It avoids the problem of small kids clicking when they shouldn't. it splits the whole process of clicker training into component parts (one person clicks, one treats). Overall, I have had excellent success doing this sort of thing. I had big worries about my 80 pound shepherd and my thirty pound neice interacting and this resolved most of my concerns fairly quickly.

Hope this helps,

Sue Alexander
copyright 2002 Sue Alexander


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