Where to begin? You’ve read all the books and are now scared to give it a try, just in case you do something wrong.
Well, the good news is that there’s actually very little that can go wrong with clicker training.
If your dog understands the click and you click late, you may well end with behaviour other than you were trying for, but there’s no real harm done.
However, for those who like to follow a plan, here’s where I suggest you begin - targeting. Nice and simple to begin with, the dog or puppy targets the palm of your hand. There are many uses for targeting, not least of which is when it all goes wrong when training. Ask for something simple like a hand touch that you can reward.
Have clicker and treats in one hand, palm of other hand up next to them.
Most pups will try mugging you for the treats - one of the most important early lessons for a pup besides the knowledge that they can, by their own actions make rewards arrive, is that you are in control of what's rewarding. Just ignore any pawing etc at the hand that has the clicker and food in. As soon as you feel the slightest contact of little nose to palm of target hand, click and reward.DON'T prompt, waggle or anything else, otherwise all you're teaching is a body cue. We want the pup to experiment a little to find out what earns the click.Note
- it's worth practising this so that you are good at the click and reward part - the mechanical side of reward delivery and timing of the click is very important
. You need to click *as soon as
* the nose touches. There's all sorts of games that you can play to firm up your timing - whatever kind of training you do, timing's important! You also need to be able to reward fast. The click tells the dog what it was that earns the reward, but don’t wait too long, try and get your rewards in within 2 seconds of sounding the click.
Then set up again. I generally work with 10 tiny soft treats in my hand and when they're all gone I stop.
I make a note of things like, where we were and where the target palm was in relation to the pup etc and then have a break. Next time I'd begin with my palm where it was, but then move it just a little further way.
Eventually I'm looking for the pup to turn its head away from the food to be clicked and rewarded.
Once the pup's worked out the game, you should have a little dog that's desperate to touch his nose to your palm because it knows that it's almost like a cookie machine. Speed of training is important - if you want fast responses, you have to be fast too
The next step in training, having got the dog to be desperate to offer the behaviour - when you put your palm up the pup can't glue his nose to it fast enough – is to add a cue. This is NOT a threat!
A cue for behaviour is simply part of a chain. You by now have seen your dog offering a nose touch many times – you should be able to predict the nose touch from the precursors to the action. To begin with you cue just before the dog actually touches, thus paring the cue with the action. As the behaviour is better established, you gradually begin to move the cue back until just the slightest of motions - a head movement, slight movement of the body, which predict the action are seen, at which point you add in the cue.
Finally you have a dog desperate to touch his nose to the target, but now he has a cue as part of the chain of action. Now you move to the last stage of training, that of no cue, no reward. Stimulus control. The cue is a signal to your dog that reward is available for the behaviour. Without the cue there’s no reward on offer. This is almost like the games of “Simon Says” that everyone plays. If you've built it well enough, after a few experiments, you should have a dog waiting desperately for you to give the cue. At which point you've almost got to where you need to be. Now you can build anticipation into the game, together with independent performance.
Here's a nice shot of where our stimulus control broke just a little - the camera has caught Boo in action so to speak :roll:
If you use toys for training and toys are in fact much the best reward for Agility training in many cases, then you should remember to condition your clicker to the toy as well
. If you exclusively pair your clicker with food, you'll end with a dog that is expecting food for the click.
© Jo Sermon, Agility Training 2003 - 2004, All Rights Reserved