We took a break from that exercise for a couple months and now the first time back to it she investigates with her nose again but the paw follows immediately. Now you see I’m getting deliberate paw touches with her head down towards the board. That gives me the idea of the next criteria to look for, paw touch with head up.
You’ll also notice she won’t get off the board! So I feed away to reset her. This also makes the behavior more clear since she has to physically go back to the board and touch it with her paw.
Towards the end of this session you’ll see me delaying the click until she starts to look up with her paw on it. You’ll also see at the end it was hard to get her away from it to stop the session. Reminder to self: Take the object away when you want to end the session!
We did a couple other exercises and then came back to the board. You see her come out of her crate and immediately go touch it. Then we had a visitor who wanted to train too! Her brother Mr. Flaki came in so I just got him up on the couch so we could continue.
So back to the exercise you’ll see a few things:
She doesn’t want to leave the board
She’s circling it with her paw on it and
She’s starting to offer more two paws
Here’s why these things are happening:
She doesn’t want to leave the board because that’s where the fun is. It’s becoming a very rewarding object to her.
She’s doing the circling with her paw on it because in the past we did an exercise for rear end awareness where she had to keep her paws on a box and move around it in a circle with her back legs. And that remembered exercise makes her want to try to put both paws on.
All of this is good and shows the strength of what she’s learned in the past. A clicker trained dog will offer all sorts of behaviors that have earned rewards in the past in a new setting until they find out what works here.
We took a short break and I remembered to pick it up! Coming back I started to try and get more two paws. She was offering them but not consistently. When shaping like this it’s a fine line you tread when you start raising criteria. If you raise it too fast the dog can get frustrated and quit. If you raise it too slowly then the dog gets stuck and it’s really hard to move forward. Shaping is a real art and takes time for both you and your dog to get.
Most everyone who trains a dog will agree on one thing. Attention is the most important thing you need to have! If your dog isn’t paying attention to you, there’s not a whole lot you can do with her.
Although trainers agree on the goal, how they get there can vary greatly. One common method is to teach a watch cue. The method I prefer is teaching my dog to offer attention. I call the game Find My Face.
It’s a very simple concept to teach and when conditioned properly is highly rewarding for both of you. The most important aspect of it however is it is an offered behavior. It is not requested, cued or forced. The dog learns by a process of shaping that the most rewarding thing in the world is looking at you. What could be better than that?
It does take some patience on the part of the trainer, but the rewards are huge and definitely worth it. Click here for a downloadable pdf with instructions on how to train Find My Face and try it yourself.
I’ve spent some time training Kara to love her crate after watching a fabulous DVD called Crate Games by Susan Garrett. She is mostly known for her expertise in agility and her positive training methods. Her Crate Games are fantastic and a very effective way to teach your dog to love her crate.
The basic idea is to make the crate the most rewarding place ever. Susan shows you how to make it so reinforcing that often it’s hard to get them out of it! I experienced that with Kara. She caught on to the game very quickly and learned that staying in was better than coming out!
Here’s a short video of her going in from a short distance on a quick cue. We’d done a lot of the foundation work and I thought I’d try and see what would happen if I sent her in and called her out from a distance.
The skills learned in these games are very useful in a lot of situations. First of all they become comfortable in their crate when you go places like shows and the skills can be transferred to things like waiting at doors.
If you’d like to get the DVD for yourself, I highly recommend it. It’s available at Clean Run.
Another important mechanical skill is the ability to deliver the food as quickly as possible after you click. In order to get the most value from the click/treat sequence you need to be able to deliver the treat immediately after the click while the dog is in the same position you clicked. The click tells the dog she did the right thing, the food presented in the correct position is an added reinforcement.
This is especially important if you have a quick dog like Ms. Kara. For example when I cue and click a sit, she can jump up before I get the food to her. When this happens I’ve lost the extra opportunity to reinforce the sit position. And I run the risk of developing a chain – sit, click, jump up, food.
So try this exercise. Get a timer that will beep (so you don’t have to look at the time.) Put on your bait bag with your usual treats and set the timer for 15 seconds. See how many pieces of food you can deliver to a countertop in the 15 seconds. One at a time of course! No fair grabbing a handful.
When you’ve reached the point where the number is consistent and you can’t go any faster, pick a specific spot and deliver just to that spot. A good idea would be to change to something that is at the same height as your dog’s mouth.
When you’re proficient, up the criteria. Try the exercise with your eyes closed. Do it with your other hand.
This exercise will pay off when you can get that treat to appear from your bag to your dog in seconds.
As Bob Bailey has said so often “training is a mechanical skill.” Those words are so true and so powerful they inspire us to work on our mechanical skills so we can be more effective trainers. One of the most important mechanical skill you can develop as a clicker trainer is timing.
Developing your mechanical skills takes practice. And it must be good practice. The old saying “practice makes perfect” isn’t exactly accurate. Practice makes Permanent so be sure you’re careful about what you’re practicing!
Here are some exercises you can do to develop your timing. They are simple to allow you to make a quick judgment as to whether or not the criteria is met. Over time they will also develop a knee jerk type reaction in that you will respond automatically. They are best done if you can do them with a partner to observe you. But you’ll still get benefits if you do them alone especially if you can video or audio tape yourself. Just be very critical of your performance and make sure you don’t accept “close enough.”
Throw something hard into the air, like a set of keys that will make a noise when it hits the ground. Have your clicker in the other hand and click at the exact moment the object hits the ground. If you do it perfectly, there will be one sound. If you hear two sounds, keep practicing until there is only one.
Put the clicker on a table next to you. Hold the hard object out in front of you with your right hand and drop it. With the same hand, pick up the clicker and click at the same time the object hits. Again, you want one sound. Practice this with both hands until you are equally accurate with either hand. Once you get good at it, make it increasingly harder by lowering your hand closer to the ground before you drop the object. Work up slowly like you would when you train your dog. A little bit closer to the ground each time. You should be 95% accurate before you move on.
One of my favorite timing exercises can be done while watching TV. Pick a random thing like a person sitting down or a news anchor picking up a piece of paper. Every time it’s done, immediately click.
If your dog happens to be nearby when you do this practice, it’s fun to feed him a treat every time you click. You strengthen the click/treat relationship in his mind and watch how attentive he gets as a result!
I learned Doggie Zen from Shirley Chong, a wonderful trainer who has a number of exercises to help you develop impulse control in your dog.
Impulse control can be extremely useful not only in everyday life but in helping move your training forward. If you’ve had the experience of your dog offering or “throwing behaviors” without a cue, impulse control work can help. If you have a dog that is impatient during training like Ms. Kara is, you’ll find impulse control will help greatly. I just don’t move fast enough to suit the princess! So we spend a good deal of time on this exercise to develop this skill.
Get out a treat that is good and smelly. Cheese works well for this, as does liver or Rollover-type stuff. Fix a few pieces that are small enough for you to cover in your closed hand.
Let your dog see that you have a goodie in your hand, then close your hand over the goodie and let the dog sniff, lick, nibble, etc., trying to get the goodie. Eventually, the dog will give up. When the dog turns his head away from the goodie or steps back away from it, even if it’s just a temporary thing, catch that moment by marking it with Yes! [or a click] and open your hand to give him the treat.
It’s important to leave your hand down at the dog’s level, perfectly accessible to him. Let him have a good chance to try to get the treat out of your hand on his own. If the dog gets too enthusiastic and is actually hurting you, say OUCH!, glare at him and pull your hand up out of his reach for a few seconds.
Give the dog as many trials in as many different places as you can.
Remember too, that this is silent training. Don’t talk to your dog or try and get him to do the right thing. Let him figure it out on his own. It’s great fun. Come back and post your experiences when you’ve tried it.
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.
Clicker Train Dog is dedicated to the training adventures of Random Wind Kara Vica at Toflaki. Kara is a miniature poodle who has only known clicker training. We plan to do competitive Obedience, Rally and Agility.