Thursday, October 6, 2011

Clicker Training BASICS

Clicker Training BASICS

1.  The Clicker is NOT a TOY and should ONLY be used as a training tool!  

2.  The clicker takes the focus off the reward so your dog can concentrate on what he was doing at the particular moment in time that he did the correct behavior.  
    -  The click is like a camera taking a picture of the exact behavior that you like or that you want repeated.  
    -   A good example is training a dolphin at Sea World to jump over a pole.  As the animal jumps over the pole the trainer clicks (whistles) to tell the dolphin he was correct, and then swims back to the trainer to receive his fish reward for the behavior.  If the trainer just gave him the fish with no click, then the dolphin might think that having his head out of the water with his mouth open is what earned him the fish and not the jump. 

3.  1 Click = 1 Reward (or more rewards if the dog does something amazing; JACKPOT)  

4.  What types of rewards?  
     -  Small smelly pea sized treats that are soft and easily swallowed so you don’t have to wait until your dog finishes chewing.  Be unpredictable by using at least four different kinds of treats, toys, and make use of environmental rewards (playing with dogs, sniffing bushes, etc.) when training new tricks or behaviors. 
5.  NEVER click the clicker next to your dogs ear, unless you have a quiet muffled clicker.

6.  If you click and you did not mean to click, you still OWE your dog a reward.  If you do not want that behavior to happen again, then make sure you do not click that behavior again. Practice your timing!  

7.  If your dog knows the behavior, they don’t need to be clicked, they already know what they are doing. 
     -  Clicking your dog is only reserved for training new behaviors or adding new criteria!   
8.  Clicking vs. “Good Boy” 
The clicker is consistent and always sounds exactly the same.  It has been tested scientifically that neurons in the brain can connect faster and more easily to a tone that sounds exactly the same rather than ones voice.  If you are using a clicker you are actually conditioning the dog to find the behaviors reinforcing.  Also, voice carries the trainer’s emotion.  People are talking all the time to their dog’s, so it is hard to make a novel sound used only for training sessions with one’s voice.  It is important to condition a word that means the same thing as a click for times that you do not have a clicker, when it is too difficult to hold the clicker, or if the dog is afraid of the clickers sound.  I use the word “YES” to mark behaviors and condition the word “YES”, so that the dog understands it.

9.  Keep your training sessions SHORT.  2-3 minutes!  Play to celebrate successes.  If you spread out short sessions throughout the day, a dog will learn much faster than a long session once a day.  Train during commercial breaks when watching TV.

10.  Start all training in a place with few to no distractions.  
Different rooms in your house with no other dogs, or animals.  Eventually progress to the yard, the street, and distracting places with other dogs and people as your dog is successful.  If at anytime your dog does seem distracted, do not try to work through it.  Move away from the distraction until your dog is able to listen and then go back to training the behavior.  Set your dog up for success and increase the level of difficulty slowly.  Kids start school in kindergarten and as they learn they move up in grades.  We would never expect a kid to go from kindergarten to college right away, so don’t expect your dog to either.  
Have fun with your dog!  A dog’s life is just too short!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Give your DOG a JOB!

Give your dog a job!
Many think that you have to do dog sports that stimulate a dogs instinct to be able to give your dog a job.  The truth is that it does not matter if you live in a house, on a farm, or in an apartment.  You can find a job for your dog!  Trust me, if you do not give your dog a job; he will create his own.  Chances are you will not like your dogs job ideas, which usually consist of barking at people or things passing by, chewing up your furniture, going through your laundry basket of dirty clothes, getting on the counter tops, digging in the trash, or destroying your favorite pair of shoes.  These “behavior problems” could simply be avoided if the owners gave their dog acceptable jobs to do.  You might be thinking, what kind of job could I possibly give my dog? Well the answer is simple!
When you are out of the house and your dog is home alone...
Try feeding your dog his breakfast by taking the kibble and hiding it around the house.  Dogs love to find things and this is a great way to stimulate your dogs mind.  
If you do not usually feed your dog breakfast, then you could hide a few of his favorite toys or acceptable chew bones around the house.  
There are some amazing food dispensing toys out on the market right now that allow you to put dog food or treats inside the toy and the dog has to knock the toy around with his nose or paws to get the treats out.  This is a challenge for the dog, stimulates their mind, and helps them work off some energy they might have stored up.
Hiding stuffed Kongs is another fun thing to do for your dog.  You can make it more interesting for your dog by stuffing the Kong with different things.  Maybe one day the Kong is stuffed with peanut butter and the next day it is stuffed with cream cheese.  This will make it more interesting to your dog when he is sniffing around trying to find the Kong.  Get creative with the hiding spots, don’t hide the items in the same spot, and challenge the dog by hiding the item in difficult places.  

Hide toy's, then encourage your dog to go find the toy's and give them a treat for every toy they find.  At first you might need to start with easy hiding places (maybe even in plain view) and then as your dog gets better at finding the toy's start hiding them in more challenging places.  We play find the tennis balls at our house and I try to get really creative as to where I hide the balls (on counters, under dog beds, inside boxes, and in every room of the house and yard.  Make sure to count the toys that you hide, because they might try to pretend not to find the toys so that they can play with them later.  LOL!  My Border Collie Bandit loves to pretend that he can't find the last toy and when we are watching TV he will come running in the living room with a ball in his mouth.  He is one clever pup!  Here is a youtube video that I did to show how to train a dog to find an item.  Treasure Hunt
When you are home and you want to give your dog something to do...
Train your dog to do a trick.  This is a fun job and it is a win win for the human and dog.  The dog gets to earn yummy treats or toy rewards and what an sense of accomplishment for the human.
Take your dog to class to learn a dog sport.  Dog sports are a fun way for humans and canines to bond and enjoy each others company.  In addition, your dog will be tired from all that learning.  
Play recall games with your dog.  My favorite one is hide-n-seek recalls, where I hide and then call my dogs to me.  They have to run around and find me.  Once they find me they all get a treat or to play tug with me.  
If you are busy and want your dog to just chill out, you can give him a yummy chew bone.  I love to use antlers, bully sticks, and stuffed frozen Kongs, but there are literally a ton of different types of chew bones.  
Take your dog for an exploration walk to sniff bushes and check out the environment.  Sometimes I will hide things (tennis balls or treats) as my dog is distracted and then get excited when they find the items I hid.  Sometimes my dogs find cool sticks, pinecones, and balls that were dropped by other dogs (Woo Hoo, Score).  
Go on a hike!  If you have a really energetic dog, you can get a backpack for him and make it his job to carry the water bottles.  I would only put one on each side to even out the weight.  
Teach your dog to find, fetch, and bring you things; such as the TV remote, your keys, slippers, get the clicker, and anything you might want.
If your dog loves people, consider training him to become a Therapy Dog and take him to hospitals, rest homes, and to visit children at schools.  
The ideas are endless as to what jobs you can give your dog.  The more you teach them the less they have time to create their own work.  The bottom line is to stimulate your dogs mind to prevent boredom.  
By Pamela Johnson

Monday, October 3, 2011

Go Slow to Go FAST!

I am a teacher and we have been reading a book called, “Secrets of the Teenage Brain”, by Sheryl G. Feinstein .    As I read this book I would think about how much it also relates to dogs and dog training.  When teaching kids it is important that they have good foundation skills in order to learn more difficult information.  It is not any different for training dogs.  You have to build a solid foundation of skills, behaviors, and develop a great bond with your dog before you can move onto training more difficult tricks, dog sports, or behaviors.
This made me think about what is it that I feel is important to train a dog to do in order to build a solid foundation.  
Learning games: Teach your dog to think by playing clicker games, 101 things to do with a box, recall games, attention games, and impulse control games.  It has been proven that when a species learns, they are increasing the synapses in the brain, and basically means the dog is getting smarter.
Socialization:  Socialize your dog to dogs, people, other animals, things, environments, and surfaces.  It is important to provide your dog with positive life experiences.
Communication: Develop clear communication with your dog through positive reinforcement or clicker training by having good timing, being consistent, setting an acceptable criteria or expectations, and 
Teach dogs to do what you want them to do, ignore what you do not want, and manage to prevent unwanted behaviors from being practiced.
Be NOVEL!!  Be FUN!!  Humans and dogs alike find novelty to be interesting and engaging.  The other day in my PE class a student taught me this new dance move called a shuffle and they do this move in the song "Party Rock Anthem".  Well after learning it, I used that move to get their attention at roll call and to tell them what they were doing for the day.  Every student's eyes were on me and listening.  It was fun and novel that their PE teacher was doing the same dance move that they love.  We need to be like this with our dogs!  Make training fun, be your dogs favorite playmate, and your dog will WANT to LEARN!
Playtime:  Teaching a dog how to play with you, with toys, and with other dogs is a really valuable foundation skill.  You want to train your dog the rules involved during playtime.  Maybe those rules include: dropping the toy when asked, fetching the toy, not putting his mouth on the human, and playing appropriately with other dogs.  Building a dogs play drive can strengthen the human canine relationship! 
Teach BASIC skills:  Teach a dog their NAME, Sit, Down, Stay, Come, hand targeting, loose leash walking, and to pay attention to you.  Teach basic skills without force, intimidation, and physical punishment to help you build a positive strong bond with your dog. 
Before a child can form sentences they must first learn their ABC’s. First a kid crawls, then walks, and finally runs.  The same goes for our dogs.  Before we can teach them to walk on a loose leash, we must first teach them how to accept having a collar and leash on.  Before we can teach a dog to stay around distractions, we must first teach them how to stay in one spot for duration.  In the beginning that stay might be one second, but we build on that behavior until they can stay for a minute.  Then we add, distance, and eventually we add distractions and put it all together.  It is not fair to ask a child to write a paragraph when they just learned how to formulate a simple sentence.  So, it is not fair to ask something of our dogs that we have not really taught and practiced.  

By, Pamela Johnson