Back in the late 1990’s I was fortunate enough to be introduced to “clicker training” by one of my agility friends. At the time, most of us were still using choke chains along with correction based training methods; not because we enjoyed it, rather it was the accepted way of dog training at that time. As soon as my friend showed me the amazing tricks she had taught her dog using only positive reinforcement I was hooked and have never looked back. I’m sure my dogs are very grateful.
To quote Karen Pryor, one of the innovators of this training method, “Clicker training is an animal training method based on behavioural psychology that relies on marking desirable behaviour and rewarding it”. For example, a dog performs a desirable behaviour which is marked by using a “clicker”, a mechanical device that makes a very distinct click sound. This sound tells the dog that they have done the right thing. The click is paired with a reward, generally food, however a reward for your dog is getting anything that it actually wants. Clicker training evolved from the training of marine mammals where a whistle was used instead of a clicker however the same rules apply.
Clickers are available at Better Pets and Gardens and once you have purchased your clicker the first thing you need to do is pair the noise of the clicker with rewards. This simply requires you to click the clicker and then immediately follow the click with the reward a few times. Your dog will then quickly learn that the click means it is getting a reward. It is very important to remember that a reward must always follow the click. Once your dog understands this you can start to use the click to mark specific behaviours that you would like you dog to repeat.
What I’ve always loved about clicker training is the enthusiasm for which the dog starts to do things. So, instead of behaving how we want through fear of punishment, the dog starts to offer the correct behaviour through its desire to earn the reward that it wants. It normally takes only a few clicks paired with rewards before the dog will create the association. By nature, dogs want the pleasant experience of being rewarded to be repeated therefore it is likely to repeat the action it was doing when it heard the click. Any behaviour can be trained with any dog by firstly getting the behaviour, secondly marking the behaviour and thirdly reinforcing the behaviour with a reward.
All the tricks Riot does for Better Pets and Gardens were learnt this way. In order to teach Riot to go and pick up a garden hose and take it to Sue McDougal for one of the commercials, I had to first break the behaviour down into little pieces. Using clicker I taught him to go to a hose lying on the ground, pick up the hose, carry the hose, take it to someone other than me, sit while still holding the hose and then give the hose to Sue.
To get started I clicked and treated Riot for simply interacting with the hose and then worked towards him picking it up in his mouth. The click marked the behaviour that I wanted. Because he was being rewarded for doing this he was more than happy to repeat it over and over again.
Karen Phillips is the owner and trainer of Riot, the beautiful border collie that is the Better Pets and Gardens mascot. Karen has had immense experience and success with her border collies as well as little Cassie, the very fast papillon, and is currently involved as a trainer with the Agility Club of WA. Karen is also a regular expert on our Facebook page every Monday night.