One of the best ways to improve the efficiency of your training is to really work on getting ‘clean clicks’. Clean clicks are properly timed and are done in a way that the dog is ONLY getting information from the click not from your hand entering the treat pouch early, or delivering the food early, or your clicker hand moving significantly before the click in view of the dog. ALL clicker trainers, even myself, can improve these skills–we all have moments were we move the treat hand too early, click late, put our hand in the treat pouch early, etc. What makes us more efficient than new clicker trainers is we do this less often.
Timing the click is really important and is often the source of a lot of frustrations and issues with new clicker trainers. A timely click is the different between teaching a dog to hit your hand with their nose and them learning to emphasize backing away from your hand. If, while teaching a hand target, a trainer consistently clicks late (as the dog is backing away from the hand after touching it), the dog will start to stop emphasizing the touch aspect and will start emphasizing the pulling back. The dog will likely start to motion towards the hand and then back up without touching it because it’s been the backing away from the hand that has been clicked consistently.
Making sure you are clicking AS the dog is doing what you want is the key for clicker training to work at its best. Being consistently late, consistently early, or totally inconsistent will make your training less efficient and will likely be the source of frustrations. Fortunately there are a lot of ways you can improve your timing. Go to a park, without your dog, and watch people in the distance walking around–click every time a particular person steps on the ground with their left foot. You can have a friend bounce a basketball and click as the ball hits the floor or as it reaches its top vertex. Sit on your front porch and watch the cars drive past, click as they pass a street sign or fence post. Have a friend play jump rope and click as the rope is on the ground (or as your friend jumps). Be creative, if you are feeling particularly cocky, watch a TV show and click all the camera changes (then feel sad as you realize you aren’t quite as good as you thought, then go back to something easier).
Besides working on your timing of the click, reducing other potential markers is really important. We don’t want dogs taking hints from your movements before they hear the click. We want the click to be THE signal that what they are doing is correct. It’s really common (and this is one of MY biggest struggles) that trainers will prematurely move to get a reward or prematurely move to deliver a reward before the click has happened. So the dogs are actually taking your movement as a marker (like the click) and may be patterning in the wrong behavior or an incomplete behavior (ending the behavior on your movement not the click). Am I double marking (a HUGE issue I have) by clicking and then following up with a good/yes. I really aim to keep my clicks clean and not move to get or give the reward but it’s definitely my biggest mechanical struggle–especially when I’m doing rapid fire clicking. It gets pretty sloppy sometimes.
The timing issue and keeping clicks clean in terms of my motion are two of the many reasons I love filming my sessions with my dogs. 90% of the footage I have of them will never air on youtube or anywhere else but what I can do is check on my mechanics. Are my clicks happening exactly when I want (thank you the slow-mo feature) and are my clicks getting sloppy with my hands (or shoulders, or eyes, or whatever may be happening regularly right before the click). I can look at my mechanics and get some feedback whether or not I was being as mechanically sound with my work as I thought. This is also one of the reasons I try to find good clicker classes to enroll in–it’s nice to have instant feedback on my mechanics.
So, if you are struggling with something, stop for a moment, ask someone to observe or take some video and see if your mechanics may be the root of your issues!