Clicker Training is said by a great many Trainers to be the most significant advance in animal training for many years.
Personally - I have achieved results with my dogs, literally in minutes, that I have failed to do 'The Old Way' for years.
So - What is it, and How does it work?
A Clicker, which is a small plastic device that has a piece of spring steel inside it. When this steel spring is depressed and released, it gives a double 'Click - Click' sound.
There are several types available, I recommend the Iclick clicker, that has a button to operate it.
Other types that don't have this can misfire - i.e. not click if they are the wrong way up, or not handled correctly, and the timing of the click, as I will explain is critical.
OK so we have a gizmo that clicks - so now what?
The Click the we give (Note it is actually the double click-click, but from here on in it will be called the click) tells the dog that a treat is coming.
The treat that he gets is a reward for doing some right, or required, some behaviour that we are going to encourage. So this treat, or reward enforces the required behaviour, this is his reward, or reason for doing this 'thing', and therefore is known as the primary reinforcer - the treat.
What is this treat? - usually a food tit bit is best, but it doesn't have to be, it could be a favourite toy, or verbal praise, but usually food is best.
The treat needs to be something that is VERY tasty to the dog, and something that can easily be given to him, something easily gulped down, and only small in size. - What do I use - Cheese usually - most of Chalfields dogs know Freds Got Cheese!
We can use other things for REWARDS - small chunks of sausage, bits of chicken etc, whatever the dog finds irresistible. As a rule the smellier the better, and also we can use several types, a very nice item, cheese maybe for a 'Normal' reward, and something extra special for rewarding a particularly good response, or achieving a behaviour that we have been striving for - and at last there it is - i.e. a Jackpot Reward.
There are some recipes for super treats just below this section
I have heard it said - 'My dogs not motivated by Food' - My response - A dog that's not motivated by food is... Dead.
Usually the problem is that the dog has been fed recently - check out the fortunes of Mr Smith Here, and/or the treat is just not appealing enough for the dog - would you go to work for 50p a week?
OK, So we have a Click and a Tasty Treat - then what?
Then we make a deal with our dog, and our side of the bargain is - If I give a Click - You get a treat. This is cast in Stone, It cannot be broken, this is an absolute!
OK, then how does the dog know of our side of the bargain? - We first have to Clicker Condition the Dog. The Americans call it charging the Clicker. This is a Vital first step, and nothing can, and must not continue until this has been done.
The Good News is - This should be fairly simple - We spend maybe a week, in lots of short sessions, clicking and treating the dog for doing nothing. The Rules of this are:
1: It is done in short sessions, perhaps 10 treats per session, the next session is a reasonable time later - enough time for the dog to be hungry again - Note, As Stressed Before - NOT just after the dog has had his dinner!
2: The treat has to be delivered a short time after the Click - Maximum 8 seconds
3: The Time interval should be varied, e.g. Click - Treat 3 seconds, Click-Treat(CT) 7 seconds, (CT) 1 second etc.
4: The method of treat delivery is also varied, sometimes from right hand, next placed on a chair, then thrown for him to catch, then left hand etc.
Try throwing several on the floor, but be sure to click just before the dog reaches each one of them. Use as many different ways possible.
Training Treats your Dog will Love
The I Clicker
Important Note : You must be sure that the pattern of this click and treat giving is random, that means sometimes when the dog is sitting, sometimes standing, sometimes looking away etc, We dont want to build an accidental reinforced association, for example if the dog is usually sitting in front of you when he gets his treat, that will be the place he will go when expecting, or looking for one, and will cause a problem with future exercises.
After a time, when you think the dog has got the idea, try giving an unexpected click, out of the blue, does the dog look at you and say 'OK, So where is it then?' - The dog is now clicker conditioned (Note- Make sure you have a treat to give him when you try this - Remember your Deal? - Its cast in Stone)
Just to be Clear - Click means a Treat, even if you didn't mean to, or did it by accident, or clicked for the wrong thing - Whatever - A Click Means a Treat - Every Time.
Ok That's the Dog conditioned to the clicker - What about the handler? - Our Bit is the Timing of the Click, we are going to use the click to mark an event. The event will be a bit of behaviour from the dog that we are interested in.
Imagine it was the dog blinking! - We have to capture that blink with the clicker, like taking a photo of it.
This will need some practice, It should be obvious, but I will state it anyway - if we practice, this must be out of earshot of the dog, and they have pretty good hearing.
You could try throwing a tennis ball in the air and letting it bounce, clicking each time it hits the floor, or watch football with Mr Smith, and click each time a player kicks the ball, or another player!
Alright then, the dog is clicker conditioned, and we are good at timing - we can do our first bit of clicker training.
I like to teach getting the dogs ATTENTION first, because it is easy to do, demonstrates the principals very well, and is one of the Vital Ingredients in Dog Training.
Take yourself and your dog, somewhere quiet, where you wont be disturbed, if you have an audience, make sure that they understand they should be still and quiet, and not tempted to 'Have a go' in your session - theirs could be the next one, if unavoidable, in an hours time or so, although I would recommend that to avoid confusing the dog in the very early stages, that just one person trains him to start with.
Have your clicker ready in one hand, but don't make it obvious to the dog, a clicker should be heard, and not seen - So don't click AT the dog, Its not a remote control Mr Smith.
Have a supply of treats available, perhaps 10, these should be out of the dogs reach, so he can't be tempted to get one for himself.
Have one treat grasped in your hand.
The dog should know that you have it, give him a sniff of the closed hand.
Stand with both hands at your sides, do not hold your hands out of the dogs reach, there must be nothing to prevent him getting the treat, other than its in your closed fist.
So - He will lick and chew your fingers, paw at your hand, all the usual ways he knows to part you and that treat.
We do nothing - Not a word is spoken (this is important) we don't pull the hand away - nothing.
eventually the dog will give up the usual methods and perhaps will wonder to himself - what's going on here then, he will then glance at you in the eye.
That's the moment we capture with the click - the very instant his eyes 'touch' yours you click, with that practiced timing, the snapshot of that event.
Then, without saying anything, you - true to your bargain, give him his treat.
That click he has achieved by a glimpse into your eyes, gets you to click, gets him his treat (feel free to substitute 'Her' as necessary).
Then we do it all again, all the same, new treat in the hand, dog knows its there, hands by sides and silence.
The dog will lick and chew your fingers again - nothing until his eyes touch yours and then it happens again - he's got you to click, which earns him a treat.
Then again, this time it may take him a little less time to look at you, again, nothing is said, no other stimuli - No praise, no patting etc.
Soon you will witness that superb moment - the light bulb coming on - the dog says to himself - Oh Yeah - that's how it works, and before long he doesn't bother licking and chewing your fingers - he's sussed it - he gets his click by looking at you.
Great - Now what next.
First - don't over do it, leave this session with the dog wanting more, dont wait for him to become full, or demotivated in any way.
Also, Just because he's doing it, doesn't mean he's learned it - yet.
So we try again later, and maybe he starts with chewing fingers, but that wont last long, and in a few sessions the dog will have learned to give you a glance.
Note - at this stage its just that - a glance.
Now its time to maintain that glance for a fraction of a second.
This process is Shaping - Taking that little bit of behaviour and extending it, or turning it into something else.
Shaping is a very powerful part of clicker training, and widely used to achieve the behaviours that we are looking for.
We are going to shape our dogs glance into watching us - giving that important attention.
So - same procedure as before, this time we delay the click for a tiny fraction of a second. To long and the dog with think - what's wrong? why isn't this working? it did just now? - and you will lose it.
We hold out for that tiny bit of extra time, then click and treat (CT), this process continues, a session at a time, a little bit longer at each session, still no talking, still no hand waving, or anything other that standing there, but now for a little bit longer.
We have Shaped the glance into a second or two of attention.
What happens if we do lose it? - Firstly, another important rule - there is no getting it wrong, there is no reprimands - there is either giving us the behaviour that we are looking for (getting it right, if you must), which generates a click, or not giving the behaviour which doesn't generate a click.
Usually if there is anyone 'At Fault' - it's the handler.
So if we lose it, we go back to the beginning if necessary and start again, usually the dog picks it up again quickly.
Just to digress a moment - what happens if we click in the wrong place, or at the wrong time, or for the wrong thing? - You got it the dog gets a treat.
And what happens if because we clicked too late, as the dog was looking away, and now that's the behaviour we are getting - the dog looking away?
We simply go back to doing it correctly, and the dog will very quickly realise that looking away (or any misplaced behaviour) will not get the click, and he will discard it.
While we are digressing - what happens if the dog looks away (or stops any of the required behaviours) after we click?
For example if we have clicker trained him to hold a dumbbell, and he drops it, the moment we click? (this will happen - how else is he going to eat the treat?)
The answer is - it doesn't matter - the click signifies the end of the required behaviour, so what happens after the click is irrelevant (except the dog getting the treat of course)
OK - So we have clicker trained the dog in silence, to give us attention for say 5 seconds, could be more, but he now knows this behaviour. This behaviour belongs to him, he has taught himself this method of getting you to click. Its time to give it a cue word.
It is not a command - its a cue to invite him to use his new trick.
We get the behaviour, the attention as before, give the click at its completion, but say 'Watch' after the click has happened.
The click has signalled the end of the behaviour, so anything the dog does now doesn't matter, but he will hear this sound - 'Watch'.
We continue doing this but advance the word a little - backtracking its called, so now we have the 5 seconds of attention, and say 'Watch' just before the click.
The dog doesn't appear to even notice, and he must continue watching to get the click.
Slowly the watch cue is backtracked to the beginning of the exercise, the dog will associate this cue with it and before long will realise that when he hears 'watch' - now is another opportunity to use HIS new behaviour to get you to give a click.
Now have a look at PART 2