Monday, April 20, 2009

Clicker Training Part 1: Training Yourself in Basic Clicker Mechanics

Before you begin using clicker training with your dog, you should practice by yourself first. Clicker training is a skill that both you and your dog will need to learn. It's important that you know how to properly use the clicker to deliver cues. Remember, the clicker marks a specific behavior, much like a camera captures a distinct moment in time, and you need to learn to time your clicks to mark the exact behavior you want. If you train yourself first, you're much more likely to have success training your dog.

You can begin by practicing delivering treats - an especially important skill. The click and treat work together. The dog learns that the click means he did something you wanted him to do and now he's going to get rewarded. Once he learns that the click means he's getting a treat, he may start experimenting with different behaviors to try to receive a click and a treat.

Try these exercises to familiarize yourself with the motions of clicking and treating. You may want to practice these with a partner.

1. Get a treat pouch, some dry food and an empty cup. (If you don't have a treat pouch, you can place the treats on a table or somewhere your dog wouldn't be able to reach them by himself.) Practice reaching into the treat pouch, grabbing one piece of dog food and putting it in the cup. Time yourself for 30 seconds. Transferring one treat at a time, how many can you put into the cup in 30 seconds?

2. Now you're ready to add the clicker. Repeat the first exercise, only this time you must click before dropping the treat into the cup. Time yourself for 30 seconds. You probably have fewer treats in your cup now that you have to click first.

3. Get a piece of duct tape and stick it to your clothing within reach of the hand you use to treat. This time, you're going to practice keeping your hand still while you click. It's important to hold still while you're clicking, and you especially don't want to be reaching into your treat pouch while you click. Your dog will follow the most obvious cue that he has performed the desired behavior, so he will start using your hand as a cue rather than the click. You want to make sure he's paying attention to the click.

Keep your hand still on the duct tape. Click, then reach into the treat pouch and drop one treat into the cup. Return your hand to the duct tape. When your hand is still, click again. Time yourself for 30 seconds and count the number of treats in the cup.

You probably have even fewer treats in the cup this time. It takes much more concentration to keep your hand still while you're clicking. Continue to practice keeping your hand still until it becomes second nature.

4. When you're clicker training your dog, you may be delivering a lot of treats. To protect your hand from being accidentally nipped, you can give the treat with a flat hand. For this exercise, start by keeping your hand on the duct tape. Click. Pick up a treat, but this time let it rest in your flat or slightly cupped hand. Tip your hand to drop the treat in the cup. Move your hand back to the duct tape and repeat the process.

You can practice these exercises by yourself or with a partner. If you're just beginning to learn clicker technique, it may be helpful to practice with a partner who can make sure you're doing everything correctly.

Check back for part 2 of our clicker training series, about the importance of timing.

1 comment:

  1. Good tips!

    I especially like the one about the duct tape. I think I'll have to try that, as I wonder sometimes if my animals are hearing the click or just reading my body language.


    Mary H.