Thursday, July 8, 2010

I Never Thought I'd Own A Clicker

I have to admit it. I bought a clicker.

I told a friend, not 2 months ago, "I'll never do clicker training. I can't stand the sound. I don't want to be tied to a clicker. And I sure don't want Tango (my African grey) constantly clicking!"

"Never say never."

Mother-of-mine, you were right.

It all started with Susan Garrett. She's an agility competitor, an author, a blogger. And her enthusiasm is infectious. I read her book, Shaping Success, The Education of An Unlikely Champion, in one weekend. It was a wonderful story about her training adventures with Buzz, the red border collie. Oh, did I fall in love with that dog. And clicker training started to niggle at the edges of my mind throughout that weekend of running with Buzz.

So, as is my way, I began my research. I read Karen Pryor, Patricia McConnell, Pat Miller, more Susan Garrett, and others. And I bought my first clicker and started clicker training some easy tricks with our two young adult borzois, Quill and Finn.

Training with a clicker is like having a lexicon to communicate with your dog. Scratch that. For you to communicate with each other. It's positive reinforcement training -- you're reinforcing the dog for giving you the behavior you want (sitting, looking at you, speaking) instead of punishing him for performing behaviors you don't want (jumping on you, chasing the cat, rushing out the door).

The click is meant to indicate to the dog that what he's doing at that precise moment is correct and a treat is coming. It's a very exact tool and your timing has to be spot-on. If you're paying attention, you'll learn as much from your dog as he learns from you. Quill, especially, is a master at showing me the error of my clicks.

To whit: in one easy session I taught Quill (inadvertently) to lick my hand whenever I turned it palm to him. My goal was to have him touch my palm with his nose. His "brother" is doing this beautifully and this type of targeting can be very helpful in training other behaviors so I wanted to teach it to Quill. But I was having trouble.

The behavior you get is what you have reinforced with the click. Clearly, at one point, I had clicked when Quill licked instead of when he touched, and that's what he continued to offer (and I, in my beginner fervor and poor timing, continued to click the lick, not the touch). Now I'm having an amusing time trying to get him back to a nose touch instead of a tongue touch. But what's really wonderful is that, instead of being frustrated by this, I'm fascinated by it. And it's not a hard fix. I just have to improve my timing.

Our dogs have always enjoyed training. But never have they tried to bust down the door of the training area to get in there to work. And my enthusiasm matches theirs.

Guess I'm just gonna have to put up with Tango clicking. I wonder when it'll start?

1 comment:

  1. A few years back, I was out to the marine science lab at Nahant, near Boston, and there was a cool gu named Ayers who had a robotic "lobster" undergoing trials with the U.S. Navy. A prototype was on display in a tank. He'd been working on mimicking behavior in robots of sea creatures like dolphins, etc. - in particular movement and sensory systems. He mentioned clickers as one thing he'd tested as a control device for the robots, based I believe on the language of dolphins. Besides sound he was developing optical and and olfactory sensing mechanisms better find explosives.