Clicker Training or Using a Marker

November 24, 2010
Clicker training is simply a way of communicating with your dog.  The special thing about clicker is that your dog understands what you are telling it.  You can tell it “Put your paw on the tile” a million times without any response, but clicking the dog for touching the tile with his paw and following the click with a treat, will get the job done in no time at all!  The clicker is not magic, it is simply a tool which we use to make communicating with a non-verbal animal easier.  It is not a cue – it doesn’t tell the dog what to do, it simply tells the dog that what it has done, or is in the process of doing, is right, and that that particular behaviour or part of a behaviour, has earned a reward.  And, because your dog likes getting rewards that particular behaviour will very likely be repeated.  

Of course, there are other ways to get dogs to repeat behaviours, but dogs just seem to LOVE doing stuff for the CLICK!  There is just such joy and enthusiasm when the clicker comes out and clicker games are played.  I honestly think that it’s more than just the food handouts.  I’m pretty convinced that it’s the fact that you and your dog are communicating on a level which is so much more than your dog following commands.
You can also use a word as a marker – “Yes” or “Good” would both work as markers so if you like the idea of using a marker as a training tool, it doesn’t have to be a clicker.  I will discuss on this blog why I believe the clicker is more effective as a marker, and also possible pitfalls of using a clicker in your training.        

RELATIONSHIPS

November 24, 2010

Your relationship with your dog is probably the most important thing to concentrate on in the early days.  I would say it is even more important than training the basic skills such as sit and down, come and walk on a lead.  Once you have established this relationship, all the other things will come easily.  You will have earned your dog’s trust and respect.  I have listed all the relationship “issues” that must be dealt with from the beginning.

1.  You control all the resources – food, play with you or other dogs, walks, rides in the car, going outside or coming inside, attention and affection.  None of these things should be taken for granted.  They are all privileges that have to be earned by polite behaviour when around you or other humans.  Impolite behaviour would be things like jumping up to greet or get attention, barging through doors or gateways ahead of you, rushing out of the car the minute the door is opened, ignoring you when you call, begging for food at the table or when you are eating.  I’m sure you can think of a few bad behaviours that would be classified as impolite.

2.  Be consistent in all your dealings with your dog.  Make sure he understands exactly what you require of him with clear signals and body language.  Keep your verbal cues quiet.  A dog’s hearing is much more acute than ours and it is certainly not necessary to raise your voice for him to hear.  If he appears not to hear it is not necessarily because he is being “stubborn”, or “disrespectful” or “spiteful”.  These are all human characteristics and probably don’t apply to dogs at all.  What is probably more likely is that your dog is either confused or simply that he hasn’t learnt what you are asking of him.

3.  Be quite sure that your dog agrees with you when it comes to choosing reinforcement.  What might seem like a great reward to you maybe isn’t for your dog.  Sometimes food isn’t always a great reinforcer under all conditions.  A game or play might be better.  I know that when I’m training my dogs in the field food is the last thing they want.  All they really want is another retrieve – now that’s reinforcing.  So when we’re out training I don’t even bother to take treats.

4.  And finally, learn to read your dog.  Observe his body language and see what he does with his ears when he is unhappy – his facial expression when he is anxious.  Make it your responsibility to deal with his problems in a way that will make him more secure, not threatened. 

All of these things will make you a better pack leader.  The qualities of a pack leader are:

Trust
Control of Resources
Consistency
Provision of Shelter and Food


Separation Anxiety

November 10, 2010
Consider this: Your pup has just spent the first 8 weeks of his life in the company of his litter mates and mother. He comes to your home, and because he is so cute you spend an entire week with him before your life returns to normal and you return to your everyday routine, leaving your pup on his own (for the first time in his young life) . Spending time with your pup is a good thing as it strengthens the bond, BUT you can have too much of a good thing and puppies need to understand that being alone is OK.
If puppies are not taught at an early age that being left alone at home is not a bad thing, symptoms such as digging, barking, destructive chewing of things like furniture and other things can appear. The best way to treat separation anxiety is to train the pup from day one so that it never becomes an issue. Once your pup has settled down in his new home, you can start this part of his education by picking up your keys and calmly stepping out the door, closing it behind you. Before your pup even starts stressing, you step back into the room and give him a treat. Continue this, adding more time as you go along, until your pup is being left alone for an hour or two without fussing. He will soon realise that his people are coming back and that he is being calmly rewarded on their return.
Often what happens is that you unthinkingly contribute to the puppies anxiety by making a production of leaving and returning. The very best thing you can do to alleviate your pup’s stress levels when left alone is to simply make leaving and returning a non-event! Owners often reinforce bad behaviors and contribute significantly to their dog’s level of distress without even realizing they are doing it.

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