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Dog Trainers and Positive Training

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Pooch Pointers

To “prime” the clicker, you can click it and then, within a half second, feed the dog a treat. Repeat for a solid two minutes—click/treat, click/ treat, and so on. Usually within that time, the dog understands that the click means food is coming.

Doggie Data

Training using a secondary reinforcer such as a clicker was invented more than 70 years ago by B.F. Skinner. Keller Breland and Marian Breland-Bailey (a student of Skinner's) first coined the phrase “bridging stimulus,” which later changed to just “bridge.” I find that it's easier to use the word “marker.” Use of secondary reinforcers first became widespread in marine mammal training.

Muttley Meanings

Criteria are the behaviors you will accept from your dog during a particular training session.

There are many reasons why people with dogs come to positive training. Some had bad experiences using punishment; some are just curious; and some dogs have behavioral problems that have only escalated as the owner used more and more force and so-called “discipline,” leaving the owner nowhere else to turn.

Some people say, “I don't train my kids using punishment, so why should I train my dog that way?” Why some people seem to think that a 25-pound Sheltie needs more punishment than an 8,000-pound killer whale at SeaWorld is beyond me.

What Is This Clicker Training Thing?

Clicker training is one facet of positive training that uses a signal to tell the dog that he did something right. A clicker is simply a marker signal—a specific sound that marks the correct behavior the instant the dog performs it. We make the sound of the click valuable by borrowing Pavlov's metronome idea—by association.

The clicker itself is a small plastic box with a metal tongue that when pressed creates a “click” sound. They can be found in most larger pet and dog-equipment stores.

Since I mention a secondary reinforcer, you might wonder what the first, or primary, reinforcer is. Primary reinforcers are things that the animal doesn't have to learn to like—the animal naturally likes them. Animals behave in certain ways for three basic reasons: to find food, to find water, and to get access to sex. We can tap into these three primary reinforcers to make our marker signal (and our relationship) more valuable.

Bridges have been used with marine mammals since the 1950s. Although marine mammal trainers use a whistle instead of a clicker to mark the correct behavior, the principle is the same. Click what you like, reward it, and ignore what you don't want. The clicker imparts valuable, precise information from you to the dog, something that is lacking in traditional types of training.

Clicker training (positive training and clicker training are used interchangeably) teaches dogs to think and to use the wonderful, creative brains they have. It also teaches them that they do have some control. (By “control,” I don't mean in a dominating, pushy way, but in a way that brings their own propensities into the training process.) Once you start training using the clicker, you'll see that your dog isn't working for the food—he's working to get you to click.

To illustrate, Laura was teaching her dog, Mollie, to retrieve a dumbbell. Mollie was touching the dumbbell with her nose, I was clicking, and Laura was treating. After a few repetitions, I wanted to raise the criteria and have Mollie start to open her mouth for the dumbbell. She touched it with her nose. I didn't click. She touched it again with her nose and deliberately looked at me with this look that only a dog can have, as if to say, “Are you going to click or not?!” I did not. She looked at me, looked at Laura, and then went to the dumbbell and opened her mouth a tiny bit. I clicked, and Laura treated.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Positive Dog Training é 2005 by Pamela Dennison. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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