Our virtual clicker training course combines knowledge and practical exercises. It exists because we want canine coaching to be positive and fun for you and your dog. Welcome to our second clicker training class of the series. If you missed it, you can find class one here!
By this point your dog should already be associating the click with a reward and be realising that his behaviour elicits the click. Now we will teach a specific act.
We will also consider the complications of capturing an act if we mistime the click.
You can test whether the clicker is fully “charged” by letting your dog relax or explore and area then pressing the clicker just once. If your dog responds by excitedly expecting a treat, then he knows exactly what the click means, and the clicker is “charged”.
You should also be starting to get the idea of reinforcing a natural act or behaviour. In addition, you have probably also reinforced the wrong thing by accident, or inadvertently linked two acts in the dog’s mind with a click. A great example of linked behaviour is the dog who always lifts a paw when he sits, because he was both thinking about sitting and lifting his paw when the click happened, so believes that the behaviour combination is required, to elicit that click.
The clicker can be used to capture a behaviour. It’s a fantastic reinforcer to do just that. We wait for an act to be carried out or offered then we quickly click and reward the dog.
Important note: Start every lesson, when teaching a new cue, in a totally distraction free area. It’s unfair to expect a dog to learn new things when he’s surrounded by distractions.
You can use capture to teach your dog to look directly at you, by reinforcing when he does. You can either wait for the behaviour to occur naturally and click when it does, or you can lure the dog by moving your hand with a treat above and behind your head, then capturing at the exact moment the dog looks in your eyes. Luring a dog is simply giving him a helping hand, so that you can capture the right behaviour.
If your dog is worried about eye contact then simply change the aim and teach him to look at your mouth instead. You can help him along with a little squeak from your lips.
After a few practice runs of clicking the look, you can start to add a cue to the act. I use “watch me” yet, the choice of cue is yours.
- At first you will click and reward the act.
- Next introduce the cue word as you click.
- Gradually you can bring the cue word forward until the dog associates the cue with the act and the act with the click.
To get this right you can practice it over approximately 5 x 10 minute sessions and more sessions if you need to, always keep sessions short and fun Then, as your dog gets the idea you can start to increase the time by withholding the click for longer periods and increasing your dog’s ability to maintain the position.
When you can use the cue word to get your dog looking at you for the click, you can start proofing the learning by practicing it in different areas, building distractions gradually. At this point the sound of the click will be releasing your dog so he can change his behaviour.
Next time we will introduce strengthening the cue, introducing the release command and teach another helpful act.
As lots of behaviours happen at once and the dog can be thinking about any act at any time, we can easily capture more than we meant to, or even the wrong thing altogether. With care, we can capture the right act and with thoughtful timing we can capture all sorts of fantastic acts. Yet, if we just randomly or carelessly click and hope for the best, we will confuse the dog.
Think of all the behaviours you carry out at once. You could be doing four or five different things in any three-second period. Tiny things such as sitting on a chair, crossing your legs, scratching your nose, yawing and starting to speak. Imagine you were doing all that and thinking about something completely different and I clicked you (and you knew the click was linked to something you really wanted). You would then likely go through all those things again, slowly, backwards and in varying combinations to try and elicit another click.
Unless I clicked in exactly the right place the second, third and fourth run through, your confusion would grow and your confidence would drop. This is why perfectly timed clicks, that capture the exact act, are so effective when teaching a dog something new.
There are few rules with clicker training but they are important, so it’s best we introduce them early:
Never call your dog with the clicker. Remember the click reinforces the exact behaviour, so clicking to get the dog’s attention means that you are rewarding a lack of attention from your dog.
Always reward the click. A secondary reinforcer that is not always linked to a primary one will lose its power and can no longer be considered a secondary reinforcer
We would love to hear how this goes for you, so do add comments below to tell us. Happy clicking!