Obedience training is provided in the comfort of your home, as it is the least distracting environment for your dog to learn. Once behaviours are mastered at home, we can then progress to any environment where you would like your dog to be responsive i.e. the park, beach, in the car, on walks or at the vet.
Clicker training is utilized as our main training method. It is a quick and effective way to teach puppies and dogs obedience, new behaviours, agility, tricks or any types of sport in a non confrontational way. The option of working without the “clicker” is also possible.
Clicker training has been used since the 1940’s but has only been ‘commercialized’ in the 1980’s by Karen Pryor. Pryor began her career with marine mammals, using Skinners’ operant conditioning (behaviour = consequence) principals to teach dolphins and develop marine mammal shows. Today she is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on clicker training.
The clicker is a little device (no bigger than a match box) that when pressed makes a “click” sound. Before training starts the clicker is a neutral stimulus with no meaning or value to the dog – it is just a sound.
For the clicker to have meaning to the dog we need to associate the sound of the clicker with something that has an intrinsic positive meaning to the dog i.e. food. One keeps on ‘clicking’ and treating until you see that the dog has made the connection, by anticipating the treat after hearing the click. Just like when your dog hears the sound of their lead, they KNOW they are going for a walk. The clicker is now associated with a treat and will now have meaning to the dog when they hear the click. Click = treat!
The ‘click’ can now be used as an event marker. An event marker is similar to you saying “good dog”. Now when your dog does a good behaviour, you click (& reward).
Clicking allows you to reinforce a behaviour in a split second (and over a distance if need be). Studies have demonstrated that the click is quicker than using the words i.e. “good dog” to mark the correct behaviour, as one’s tone of voice varies at times or you could be slow to praise the exact behaviour. The click sound is brief, crisp, consistent and distinctive.
The neurological advantages to using the sharp clear mechanical sound, is that it is registered quicker than ‘fuzzier’ sounds i.e. “good dog”.
Once a behaviour is learned and is on cue (command), the clicker and the treats are faded out.
Thus if trained correctly the dog’s behaviour is not reliant on the presentation of the clicker or the treats.
Simply put, Clicker Training is:
1) Get the behaviour to happen (by using a lure, shaping or capturing)
2) Mark the behaviour (“click”)
3) Reinforce the behaviour (“treat”)
4) Generalize & Proof the behaviour (practice in different environments & distractions)
5) Add in the Cue (command)
6) Fade clicker and treats
Benefits of Clicker Training
- Clicker training enables you to build a relationship of clear and consistent communication between you and your dog.
- The main component to clicker training is that of positive reinforcement, therefore your dog is more likely to offer new behaviours, especially during shaping exercises (i.e. down, give paw, fetching, stays, lose lead walking, recalls etc.) compared to other training techniques.
- Clicker training accelerates learning, thus the more behaviours you teach, the quicker he learns them.
- In clicker training the consequence of a correct behaviour, results in positive reinforcement (the treat). Thus the more you reinforce (treat) a behaviour, the more the behaviour will occur in the future.
- Learning is easier (for any species) if it is having fun, and clicker training is fun!
- While learning to clicker train, your understanding of your dog’s behaviour increases and therefore you become a better trainer and owner.
- Clicker training obedience or tricks increases the quality of the time spent with your dog.
- Clicker training can increases your dog’s impulse control and teach them to better handle frustrative events.
- It is extremely powerful in working with abused, very fearful, aggressive or phobic dogs that cannot be touched or be in close proximity to a human.
- For people that tend to be overly verbal (keeping in mind that dog’s don’t understand English, OR loud English) takes all the chatter out of training, thus helping the dog to concentrate on the given task.
- Clicker training is immensely mentally stimulating to the dog – as the dog really has to figure out what to do to make you “click”. This provides a good balance between physical and mental stimulation.
- The end result is a better behaved dog, which means an increase of desirable behaviour and a decrease of undesirable behaviour.
“Neurological and biochemical effects of clicker training: Any time a dog receives a treat, it causes the dogs Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) to respond. This section of the nervous system is sometimes called the vegetative function of the organism and is responsible for i.e. processing foods and digestion. (Humans too experience episodes in which the PNS is active in the form of nice warm feelings, relaxation & contentment.) Anytime that a previously neutral stimulus (like the clicker) gets paired with one of these parasympathetic reactions, through classical conditioning (stimulus = stimulus), the clicker acquires the ability to produce the same pleasant effects. Thus clicker training can be used to calm a dog, make them less fearful and causes the whole training experience to be happy and enjoyable for the both of you.
When you’ve got that clicker in your hand, you are automatically looking for something good to click. That alone is going to change your relationship. And when your dog GETS it, all of a sudden it’s the smartest dog in the world. You will find that you truly understand your dog at last, and thanks to the clicker, the dog will understand you too. A bridge has been built.” Karen Pryor
© Claire Grobbelaar