Friday, April 2, 2010

Clicker Training: The Details Matter

We're clicker trainers. It's a positive reward training system, and it's fun for us and the dogs, especially since we use food rewards - and you know how much Labs love food! Since we started using clicker training, we have found that the dogs are very eager to learn and experiment with behaviors to find the one that will earn them a click and treat.

The dogs learn very quickly using the clicker method. However, it's the trainer's responsibility to make sure they're sending the right signals to the dog. Rebecca Lynch, a dog trainer who is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, wrote a great article about what she calls "poisoned cues." A poisoned cue occurs when a dog associates something unpleasant with a cue. The dog may stop responding to the cue in an attempt to prevent the unpleasant thing from happening. For example, the cue come can easily become associated with something unpleasant because come tells the dog to stop sniffing all those wonderful smells or stop playing with those dogs and return to its handler. The dog is not going to come if come always means the fun stops.

When we train come, we may use power treats to help make us more interesting than the great smells or other dogs. When the dog comes when called, we'll give him a jackpot of treats and then release him to play or sniff again. The dog will associate come with good things (treats) and learn that come doesn't always mean the fun ends.

Rebecca Lynch's article Poisoned Cues: The Case of the Stubborn Dog goes into detail about reading your dog's body language, identifying poisoned cues, and retraining those cues. It's a great read and really makes you think about the little details about clicker training your dog.

Have you ever retrained a cue when it had stopped working? We would love to hear about it. Share your story and tips in the comments.

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