Training methods are evolving all of the time and the more we learn, the better trainers we can be.
The more skilful we become as a trainer, the easier the learning process becomes for our students – whatever the species.
Some of us old dinosaurs here at K9WH are late comers to the world of marker training. What!!…I know you’re shocked but don’t be. Sometimes what is known to some is new to others. Yes, marker training is obvious but only if you know how it works! If you don’t then ‘charging the clicker, marking behaviour, tier rewards, and other such terms are not part of your vocabulary. Late comers we may be but convertees we definitely are and have now used it in every aspect of our training including bite-work. However on our road to enlightenment we made a few mistakes and are certainly not experts, so we enlisted the help of Jo Pay an experienced dog trainer with The Standish Dog Trainer to give us some pointers.
“Where do you want to start?” asked Jo….”At the very beginning please Jo” We replied so here we go with some advice from Jo
Jo Pay, June 2016
I’m going to write about clicker training, though clicker is only a method of marking; (whistles & voice are commonly used in marker training too).
I use a clicker because it is clear and precise. It is always the same, there is no emotion attached, it is not rushed / frustrated, it is a consistent signal. It is a force free method, no pain or punishment is used.
The clicker (marker) is a way of establishing a signal that lets your dog know a reinforcer is coming.
It is also up to 50% quicker than using just your voice to mark behaviour (Pryor 2005)
We start by pairing the sound of the clicker with something that is reinforcing (rewarding) to the animal. I work with dogs, so dogs will be the example that I use.
Start by getting organised; prepare your treats, for dogs I use small pieces of food that are really tasty, quick to eat and easy to feed from my hand or to toss to the dog / onto the floor.
Prepare your training space, make sure there are no competing reinforcers to distract your dog; clear away toys, make sure your clothes aren’t flapping around, that other pets are out of the way and that people aren’t going to be walking through.
Then, with your dog, simply click once and give your dog a treat. Keep your clicker hand still, don’t point and click – your clicker is not a remote control! Also be aware of the proximity of the clicker to your dogs’ head, the clicker is loud so don’t click it right next to their ear!
Once you have clicked and treated 8 -10 times your dog will have the idea and then the fun can start!
Here is a video that I made a short time ago for some students. This shows you how to get started with clicker training; I hope you find it useful!
Things to Consider as you start this training
- You can’t do any harm by clicking the wrong thing, clicking too soon/too late happens to us all, but dogs are very forgiving and as your skills in marker training progress, this will happen less.
- Always follow that click with a treat/reinforcer, ALWAYS! If you fail to reward each click, the clicker will lose its value as a tool.
- Only click once!
- Remember that you can mark (click & treat) behaviour that you ask for, but you can also mark any behaviour that your dog offers freely, so if it does something that you like – mark it!
We know that behaviours that are reinforced are more likely to be repeated! This very basic introduction to clicker training asked for by the K9WH team is the first step. The method can be applied to all areas of your dog training and maybe I will get the opportunity to expand this article.
Enjoy your training and please feel free to ask questions!