One of the most valuable skills you can have as a clicker trainer is the ability to observe what your dog does. If you have strong observation skills, you will be able to capture what you want your dog to do much easier. The timing of the click is all important in conveying to your dog what it is you want them to repeat.
Another valuable skill is to be able to observe without judging the behavior. By that I mean thinking of a behavior as good or bad. If you can remove making judgments from the training equation, it’s easier to shape behavior. And of course, judgments include those you make about yourself too. Nothing can hold a trainer back more than beating herself up for her inexperience or mistakes. We all make them and we all learn how to overcome them.
So here’s an excellent exercise to try in order to hone your observation without judgment skills.
Describe everything your dog does in 2 minutes and rate it wanted, unwanted, or neutral. Set a timer so you don’t have to watch a clock. You want to concentrate on your dog. Do this at a time when your dog is moderately active (you’ll get more to observe) and not focused on you. So don’t do it during a training session. You should pick a time when you are sitting reading or watching TV with your dog nearby.
Observe everything including sniffing, barking, lying down (how your dog does it, what position, etc.), looking at you or not, drinking, eating. Try to capture everything regardless of how small it is and write it down.This exercise will show you where you are, at this very minute, when it comes to observing your dog and also the variety of behaviors your dog exhibits. Put your list of what you observed in a safe place. Then in about a month do it again and compare your lists. It will be interesting to see if you observed more and what types of behavior your dog exhibits. Are there “default” behaviors?
If you’d like, post some of your results in a comment so we can see what kinds of things we are observing.
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