In a previous post on clicker training, I suggested that one of the ways you could improve your clicker and timing skills, would be to practice without the dog. In this way you can make mistakes in your learning process, and it doesn’t have to affect your dog.
Some of these games need a partner or friend, but there are some that you can play solo.
Game 1: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. – One of the most common mistakes beginner clicker trainers make is to deliver the food reward at the same time as the click. The dog is, understandably, so focussed on the food in your hand, that he simply does not hear the click and it subsequently loses its value as a secondary reinforcer (or marker). This is most common when working at close quarters with your dog and is often the reason that your dog is taking longer than expected to learn a skill. Even movement of your food hand during an exercise will distract your dog and slow down the learning process. One of the big advantages clicker training has over lure and reward training, is that it makes the dog “think” about what it’s doing rather than simply “doing”.
This exercise will need a handful of dry beans or any objects that are similar and an empty jar or cup. Place the handful of beans and the empty jar on a table in front of a mirror. Stand facing your image and click and transfer one bean from the pile into the empty jar or cup. What you will be watching for is ANY movement of your food hand while you are clicking with the other. One thing that helps is to put your (empty) food hand behind your back. Pick up on even the slightest movement. You must practice keeping your body, and particularly your food hand still while you are clicking.
Game 2: One-Armed Bandit – For this game you need a friend, partner or child to help you. Stand facing one another, about 10 paces apart. Instruct your partner to very slowly raise one of his or her arms from its starting position at her side, sideways until it is pointing at the ceiling – in other words her upper arm is next to her ear. Your job as the clicker trainer is to click when her arm reaches the horizontal, at which time she must stop moving. If she is moving very slowly your clicks will be on the button, but as she speeds up, you’ll find that your clicking is too slow, and her arm stops above the horizontal position. If it were a dog’s behaviour you were marking you would have been too late to capture it precisely, and probably would be marking another behaviour altogether. You can see from this game that is rather better to click too early than too late. It’s better to catch the behaviour on the way to completion, than after completion. Remember practise makes perfect and even when speeded up, you’ll soon be able to catch the position with a great deal of accuracy.
Game 3: Anyone for Tennis? – For this game you need a tennis ball and a friend. Your friend or partner will drop the ball to bounce on the floor, or throw the ball against a wall. The object of the game is to click when the ball makes contact with the surface. Remember that if you think “Click” as the ball contacts the surface, you will be too late. The average person’s reaction time is o.3 seconds, which when you are trying to mark small behaviours is actually a lot of time!
To check your reaction time, you can play these games on the internet.