Friday, March 31, 2006

Clicker Training For Your Dog? What is it?

Hi, lets touch on another common Housebreaking method for dogs today.
It is called the Clicker Training.

So, what is Clicker Training?

Clicker training is a method to train animals which has become increasingly popular over the past decade. Its popularity is due to its gentle nature and its proven results.

Clicker training stems from studies in psychology and is based on what is known as operant conditioning.

Operant conditioning is based on the idea that a dog tends to repeat an action that wins him or her positive reinforcement and does not repeat actions that receive negative reinforcement. This is certainly true of friend's dog, Elvis.

Elvis is a lively little beagle who loves people and loves to trot around the yard with his nose just an inch or so off the ground.

I wanted to teach Elvis to play dead and am proud to say that he can now do that on command. To teach him this trick, I used the clicker method.

The clicker is a small plastic box that you press with your thumb to make a sharp clicking noise. The advantages of the clicker are two fold; for one thing, it makes a sharp noise that is distinct from the human voice or any other house hold sound. Secondly, it is immediate, and, therefore, can positively reinforce behavior as it is occurring.

The real trick to clicker training is to get your dog to associate the clicker with positive reinforcement.

The clicker is known as a conditioned reinforcer and it must be matched with a primary reinforcer, such as food, treats or a nice scratch on the belly. Whatever your dog typically responds to best, whatever it is that he or she likes the most, should be paired with the sound of the clicker in the dog's mind, so that the immediate sound of the clicking can elicit the best response from your dog.

As mentioned before, I used clicker training to train my friend's beagle Elvis to play dead. This trick, of course, has to be taught in steps, like most other tricks.

· First, I wedded the conditioned reinforcer, the clicker, with the idea of getting a treat.

· Over time, I was able to give him fewer and fewer treats and just use the clicker as the main reinforcer.

Then I told Elvis what to do, “play dead,” and I showed him how to do it. I even moved his body through the steps and into position a few times. That does not work with every dog, of course, but Elvis is small and extremely friendly, so I was able to get away with it. My neighbors, once again saw me doing this and really thought I was nuts!

Then, I would tell Elvis to play dead. At first, if he sat down, I would click the clicker to let him know that he was moving in the right direction. Occasionally, I would give him a treat, just to make sure that the clicker remained the conditioned reinforcer.

After a while, Elvis began to get really low on all fours and rest on his stomach. For this, I would click, to let him know that he was doing the right thing. At that point, I would no longer positively reinforce him if he merely sat down.

Eventually, after a little more rolling on my back, Elvis began to roll on to his side. By clicking the clicker, I positively reinforced this behavior. As he did this more and more often, I would only reinforce the behavior if he maintained the position.

Now, Elvis will play dead on command without the clicker; though I do miss rolling on my own back to show him. :o)

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