Wow the Clicker

The clicker expo, as I have said before, blew me away. I do look at my dog training in a whole new light, now. I don’t know if I can convey to you what I feel, as although I like to think I am fairly good at writing, sometimes getting my information across is difficult for me to do.

Plus, I have talked to a number of people now who do use a clicker to train, but seem to be in the same place I was, and the clicker is just a tool to mark behavior. Where clicker training is an entire training concept that molds and shapes a dog in an encouraging, positive way and gives the animals control over their environment, and helps us to communicate with an entirely different species in an amazing way.

The Karen Pryor Clicker Expo is an amazing way to really get the idea of clicker training. Clicker training uses a clicker as a marker for behavior, and also uses positive reinforcement to not only get the behaviors you want, but to mold and build a relationship with the animal.

One of the statements that struck me the hardest was that clicker training has been used in the exotic animal world for years and years. But some of the trainers, when they came to dog training, were told, and believed, that dogs are different. Dogs you use punishment to train. It’s the amazing, open minded people who challenged that belief and realized that no, dogs are exactly the same. And the people who are involved with police dogs, search and rescue dogs, military dogs… those that are changing the dog training world, slowly, to use clicker training, are the ones that impress me the most. Because those fields are so traditionally punitive. It needs to change. It is changing. It will change.

I could go on for pages and pages about clicker training, but I’ll keep my posts short as I go through the knowledge that I have absorbed. Amazing knowledge. And I’ll post up some links to some great sites, too.

I have been clicker trained

I am home. I am amazed. I see the world, dog world and the rest of the world, in a completely different way now.

I get clicker training now. I get it. I hope I continue to get it. I know that as my experiences are no longer sharp, that my memories fade and my motivation diminishes, but I sure hope a lot of it sticks in my brain and in my heart, and I can develop the skills to be a real authentic clicker trainer.

Clicker training is not just click and treat, marking the behavior and shaping. That is a big part of it, but it’s not all of it. Watching the speakers was amazing. Kathy Sdao and Ken Ramirez were my favorites. They were amazing speakers, very energetic and got their points across wonderfully.

There are some key points to clicker training. You shape the behavior, or capture, using the clicker. And then after the dogs knows the behavior, you put the cue to it. And then after the behavior is reliable, you go to a variable reinforcement schedule. And then, you know a well trained clicker behavior because:

The dog always performs it on cue, and
The dog ONLY performs it on cue.

I missed those points. Didn’t understand them. And now I understand them so much better.

I am tired, so this is a short post.. I’ll post more later about what I learned, and I’ll read over my notes. I need a nap!

At the Clicker Expo

Well I am at the clicker expo! And I found free internet. Not wireless, but the hotel has wired internet access in their computer room so I hooked up and here I am.

I am amazed at the clicker expo. The first speaker I watched was Ken Ramirez and not only does he know his stuff, he’s an excellent speaker and knows how to capture and hold his audiences interest.

I will write more when I get home, but the primary thing I learned form him, and remember, is that you have to train the secondary reinforcer. Train them as a behavior. And then follow the certain steps to make them be as strong as primary reinforcers. I really liked that concept.

Many of the trainers here only use shaping. They do not use luring at all. It is a very interesting concept, as I have used a lot of luring.

That first lecture was worth the entire trip. I was also impressed with Kathy Sdao, she is also an energetic speaker with lots of great ideas. I wish I could take regular classes with her, or with one of the clicker trainers here, because doing helps me learn a million times more than reading, or just watching a short lecture.

But in a nutshell, I think clicker training will revolutionize the world of animal communication. It amazes and fascinates me, how we can communicate with other species. It also excites me and thrills me, and I just love it. I think over the next years, and decades, we are going to see more of a revolutionary way of not only communicating with other animals, but relating to them, respecting them, and realizing they are as sentient as us human animals.

Actually, clicker training is already used in training and communicating with exotic animals and sea animals. I’ve heard from a couple of the trainers here who have worked with exotic and sea animals, that they used clicker type and positive reinforcement with them, then came to the dog world and were told that dog are trained differently, with correction and aversives, and they just drank that up and believed it. But now they are questioning that, and dogs are, finally, getting the type of training and care that they deserve.

Very very interesting. I just love it all, and have so much more to absorb. I’m like a sponge, and I want to drink it all in!

In will try to get online tomorrow night as well, we will see how it goes. 🙂

The Missing Element in Training

Since my post about Cesar Milan a while ago, and the comments I received on it, I wanted to post again. Not about Cesar… really. But about one of the comments (maybe more than one of them).

Someone said that Cesar is more a dog psychologist than a dog trainer. I have said, for as long as I have been around dogs… okay for as long as I’ve been around dogs as an adult.. since my early 20s, that whenever I am with a dog, I am training that dog. And from what I understood, it seems a number of people believe that dog training and dog psychology are mutually exclusive.

I beg to disagree. I think that they are intertwined. So much so that you cannot have one without the other when you are dealing with dogs.

Sure you can teach a dog to sit, down, stay, heel… you can teach a dog obedience, agility, flyball, herding, tracking… and any of the other dog sports out there. And this is all training. However, if you want to really have a good working relationship with your dog, and you want a dog that performs well and likes to work, you have to understand that dog’s behavior. The dog’s psychology.

On the other hand, you can understand a dog’s behavior up the wazoo, but in order to get a well mannered dog, either a house companion or a working dog, you have to incorporate training into the interaction you have with the dog.

I have done agility for over four years now. I am just barely starting to do serious obedience training. If you have followed my training with Chase, my border collie, you’ll know all about the trials and tribulations I’ve had with him. He knows all the agility contacts. He knows his job. He knows how to jump and how to weave and how to run through a tunnel (he especially knows how to ignore me completely and head for the tunnel all the way on the other end of the course). But a very huge piece of his ‘training’ was missing. And that was the behavioral part. Knowing why he does what he does… his drive, his motivation. Knowing that he lacked drive shaping and focus, and that he has a high sex drive, these things are critical when training him.

It seems to me that many, many people in competition events nowadays don’t understand the behavioral aspect of training. Understanding your dog, your individual companion and partner, is critical to the training experience. Having a dog that can think, and listen to you, and focus on his job.. these things are so important that I cannot express it in words. Without the behavior piece with Chase, without understanding his psychology, we never would have restarted our forward progress in dog training. Even in socialization, as he tends to not be good with some other dogs.

So really, to say that Cesar is a dog psychologist and not a dog trainer is something I disagree with. I believe he is both. I still don’t like his methods, though.

I look at dogs completely differently than I did only a year ago. Instead of just looking at their training I look at what their person has done, or hasn’t done, to shape their behavior, too. It’s fascinating. I love it. I want to spend more time doing it. Maybe after I retire I will be able to.

I want my dogs to have every opportunity to succeed. And, of course, I want to succeed, too. And now I have many more tools with which I can do this. And it’s fun!

Dogs and Counter Surfing

Collie Counter Surfing Do you have a dog that, like Lucy in the picture here, gets on the counter and eats anything they can get their mouth on? Lucy will even reach her paw waaaaaay out if she has any hope of reaching something tasty that might be pushed back by the wall. Well this short article will contain suggestions of what you can do to prevent your dog from counter surfing. Of course if you have a small dog it won’t be a problem. And the bigger, less limber dogs, might not have the flexibility to get onto the counter. But medium size dogs are just great at counter surfing.

Prevent your dog from counter surfing to begin with

The old cliche applies here. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As a matter of fact, and I will tell you this right off the bat, once your dog has learned to counter surf you don’t have much chance of stopping this behavior. Not unless you are very diligent and ever watchful of what you have on the counters, and what your dogs are doing.

Any animal will respond to positive reinforcement. If they do something and are positively rewarded, and especially with food which is a primary reinforcer, they are more likely to repeat the behavior. So once you leave that steak on the counter, or that package of donuts, and the dog gets into them, oh boy watch out. They will look again for the same reinforcement. And it only takes once.

Dogs and Right and Wrong

Many people now believe that dogs have no morals, no sense of ‘right’ vs. ‘wrong’. This doesn’t mean dogs are bad people. It just means they are dogs. Instead of right or wrong, a dog sees the world as either safe or dangerous.

So if you are around when the dog jumps on the counter to eat something yummy, and you are there and correct the dog with a smack or a mean voice (we never support hitting a dog on this website), then the dog will learn that getting on the counter when you are there is dangerous. But getting on the counter when you are not there is safe. Thus, you have created a dog that waits until you are gone to get on the counter (or sofa, this works in other areas too).

Stopping Dogs from Counter Surfing

So you messed up. And now your collie, or border collie, or boxer, or greyhound or whatever mix you may have, has been rewarding herself by jumping on the counter and stealing treats. What is a human to do?

The best bet is extinction. This requires that 100% diligence I was talking about earlier. It basically means never, ever, ever, leave anything for your dog to eat on your kitchen counters. If you do that, then the dogs will give up and stop trying the behavior. However, dogs can go a very long time checking and rechecking. And what if you make a mistake and leave something up there? You start over from day one.

Another way to stop this behavior is to hide. If you can get a squirt of water off, or a snap of a mouse trap, when you are not in the picture, then you might have a chance. You’d have to set the dog up by putting something small and not very valuable on the counter. If you can hide and give her a squirt without her knowing it was you (good luck), then that might work. This is, however, using correction with dogs. Which is something we try to avoid here at Tip Tail. We prefer positive methods of training.

Person or Dog Gives up First?

We have four dogs in our house. Three of them are limber enough to get on the counters. Angel is the only one who is not. And we did not use any prevention at the beginning, I am embarrassed to admit. So what do we do?

We let them counter surf. Our house is for our dogs. We don’t leave anything on our counters that they could be hurt by. My husband even lets Lucy jump up, when he is around, and lick something up that has spilled. What is a woman to do with her husband? Laugh and brush it off. It bothered me at first, but now it doesn’t.

We are careful not to leave pills, food, or anything else on the kitchen counters. That is what we do. We don’t want to hit or yell at our dogs all the time when they are on the counters. That would just make us dangerous and them fearful. So they win this round. But they still know who is boss.

Lucy, actually, has the cutest trick. When I’m cutting up dog treats such as hot dogs or string cheese on the counters, she used to jump up. Well, I wanted to clicker train her to keep her feet on the ground. So whenever her feet would land, I clicked. What did she learn? Well, you can’t have your feet get onto the ground without them first coming up off the ground. So now she has a very cute, sweet, hop that she does at the counter when I cut up treats. And of course I can’t resist giving her some. She’s my sweet baby girl collie. 🙂

[tags]dog training, clicker training, counter surfing, collie, collies[/tags]