Some Words of Advice

Say your command once. For example, if you repeat the command over and over, your dog will think that he is supposed to sit only when he hears, “sit, sit, sit”.

Only reinforce the behavior you want, and not another. The click and reward must immediately follow the behavior for your dog to closely associate it with the reward.  If you wait longer than 1.5 seconds you run the risk of your dog engaging in another behavior while you are administering the reinforcement. A good example of this is when you teach your dog to sit. You tell Fido to sit, and manipulate him into position. While you’re saying “good dog” and giving a food treat, he stands up. What has just happened?  You rewarded sit and stand up. Another example is when you get excited and click too soon. Your dog is starting to sit, and when his rear is half way to the ground you click – Oops; you just rewarded a hover sit. With the clicker you can train all sorts of useful, great, fun, and sometimes, odd behaviors. How do you think those movie and television dogs are trained?

Initially always follow the click with a treat. Remember that you conditioned your dog to know that when he hears the click, food is coming. If you stop providing the treat after the click, the click will no longer mean anything after an extended period of time. Once your pet is fully clicker conditioned, or is responding consistently, you can switch to a variable reward schedule where you provide a treat intermittently.

Break down every exercise into small steps. Dogs learn quickly, and with less confusion when exercises are broken down into small steps. With small steps, the foundation for learning will be very strong, creating a very reliable dog that enjoys performing for his owner.

Isn’t praise the same thing as a clicker?

You would think that praise or a marker word would be just as good as a clicker. The clicker has two big advantages that verbal praise cannot duplicate. The first is that the click sound has no emotion attached to it and always sends a clear, consistent message to your dog that he is doing something right. The click sounds the same every time.  Praise is often inconsistent in sincerity; it is affected by your mood. Your dog is very attuned to your emotions. Lets face it, sometimes it is difficult to praise your dog when he has been giving you a hard time. (Or more likely, when you’ve confused him into complete bafflement) A clicker cuts through this. The second advantage is timing. The click pinpoints the exact moment your dog has done something right; you just can’t say “Good Dog” in a split second.  Please note, the clicker is not to replace praise,  it is just another tool we use to establish a communication channel that promotes fast learning.

How do I phase out the clicker and food?

First, start training new commands, or tasks, with continuous reinforcement (every single time). Switch to intermittent, variable rates as soon as your dog is responding consistently.

If you stay on a continuous reinforcement schedule where you reward every time, once you stop rewarding the behavior, it will stop. Switch to an intermittent, or variable, schedule of click-treat. In other words instead of rewarding every time, reward every third time, or maybe two in a row, then reward after your dog has performed well five times in a row. When rewards occur this way behavior tends to be stronger and lasts longer.

Every exercise you teach your dog can be done in this fashion. Once done with the clicker for basic obedience, put it away. When you are ready to teach a new exercise, do some advanced training with your well-mannered companion, you can reintroduce the clicker to teach competitive obedience, agility, tricks, flyball, and more.

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