FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Tena answers some training FAQS about training, clicker training, behavior, and more. There are no stupid or silly questions and Tena is always happy to answer them openly and honestly. Here are some that are frequently discussed…
WHEN YOU RUN A CLICKER-TRAINING CLASS, DON’T ALL THE CLICK NOISES CONFUSE THE DOGS?
No. There are quite a few reasons that it doesn’t seem to bother them. There are many different styles of clickers and each one emits a slightly different noise both in pitch and volume. When the dogs are working with their handlers there are probably a few different indicators the dogs are picking up on that tell them which click is for them. They are probably noticing the small muscle movements we use to click the clicker, especially if it’s in view of the dog. What they are probably most in tune to is the location of the click. Dogs have really quite acute hearing (some breeds use their hearing to search for rodents under ground) and can tell where the click is coming from. Dogs learn that they are working with you and use their hearing to determine when a click comes from you. It may be surprising but I haven’t seen any problems of multiple clickers in a class. Plus, the reality is, training in class is only a tiny fraction of the time spent training so most of the time this is not an issue.
WHEN USING A CLICKER, DO YOU HAVE TO USE IT FOREVER?
No… I use the clicker primarily in three instances. 1. I use a clicker probably 95% of the time when I’m teaching a brand new behavior–this is the real place where a clicker makes a difference in the learning process. 2. I use a clicker when I’m working in high distraction environments–using the clicker gets my dogs “seeking” part of the brain working and it becomes an additional reinforcer (dogs love earning the click because it predicts food). 3. I use a clicker when I am increasing criteria or precision of behaviors–straightening out a heel position, getting faster sits, etc.
WHAT IF MY DOG IS NOT FOOD MOTIVATED?
Well, all dogs are food motivated to some extent or they would not survive since they wouldn’t eat. When working with dogs who aren’t as motivated by food, the first thing I question is if the dog is free fed (if the dog has access to food all day). Many dogs who have access to food all day are reluctant to work for food–would you work for something you got for free? When the food is no longer available all the time, it becomes more valuable and more motivating so the dogs are willing to work for it. Another common reason for dogs not being overly food motivated is the current conditioning of the dog–an overweight or obese dog isn’t always that motivated. Another common reason for lack of food motivation is the quality of food being used. Some food items are more motivating than others to dogs–it’s like using different quantities of money to motivate people. Do you think Kibble is as motivating as boiled chicken?
That being said, we have access to a very wide array motivators and rewards. Think of all the things dogs want each day: breakfast, to go outside, to come inside, to go for a walk, to get snuggles, to have you throw the ball, to have you throw the frisbee, dinner, to play tug, etc. You can use each one of these events as a training opportunity by taking advantage of these “life rewards”. Your pup wants outside, you can ask for a sit, a down, a hand target, etc and reward with letting him outside. When you control what your dog wants, you can make almost everything into a training event.
In a nutshell I use whatever is most motivating for the dog at that particular moment. I will try to make the food more valuable because it’s easy to use and convenient especially when teaching new behaviors but there are many things we can use as rewards.
WHAT IF MY DOG ONLY LISTENS IF I HAVE FOOD IN MY HAND?
Your dog has probably learned that if they ignore you the first time (when you don’t have food in your hand) that you will then go get food and ask again–essentially, the dog has trained you to go get him a treat.
Once the basic behavior is known, I instruct students to keep treats out of their hands unless rewarding the dog. I also instruct them to keep treats hidden around the house so they can still reward the dog but do not have to carry food with them at all times (the secondary benefit to this is that your dog thinks you can pull treats out of the sky!).
If you cue a behavior without food in your hands, do not get a treat if your dog ignores you. Stay firm–but if the dog is still not responding, make sure that your dog actually KNOWS the cue in that environment, with that level of distractions–remember dogs don’t generalize well. Just because he responds reliably to “sit” in the kitchen doesn’t mean he ‘knows’ the behavior in the garage–they don’t assume that the rules from one place extend to another.
BUT HOW DO YOU CORRECT UNWANTED BEHAVIORS OR MISTAKES?
Our focus is not on “correcting unwanted behaviors”–we live in the land of ‘DO’. Instead of focusing on correcting what we don’t want, we focus on teaching what we DO want. For example, instead of kneeing a dog in the chest to ‘correct’ him for jumping, we teach the dogs to sit for a greeting. We also work hard to set our dogs up for success so they are not making bad decisions.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t use punishment, we do, but we do not use physical punishments, pain, or intimidation.
If we have an unwanted behavior we can do a few things to resolve the problem. If the behavior is not dangerous or overly annoying, we can choose to ignore the unwanted behavior while teaching an incompatible behavior (replace the jumping behavior with the sit), we can redirect the unwanted behavior into a desirable behavior (instead of biting my pants, why not play with this toy), or we can manage the dog’s environment and their freedom to prevent them from performing the unwanted behavior (using baby gates to keep the dog from counter surfing in the kitchen). If the behavior is more dangerous or obnoxious, we can do all of the previously mentioned tools but we can also utilize some punishment–they can be removed from the situation (a time out), they can loose access to things they want (tethered to a specific place so they cannot explore), they can lose resources (take the toy away if during play he bites hard during play), or you can remove yourself from the dog for a short amount of time–abandonment (nipping for attention may cause you to leave the room).
WHAT TRICK SHOULD I TRAIN MY DOG NEXT? I NEED AN IDEA OF SOMETHING DIFFERENT…
A useful but still silly trick was teaching Shayne to take off my socks. It’s another party-favorite trick but it also quite nice when I’m feeling too lazy she’ll help me out!