Learning Clicker Training Makes Everything Old New Again

OMG – it is library quiet in my house on this Friday that starts Memorial Day weekend; never mind that it feels like a damp, chilly autumn day.  Can I finally write a coherent blog post about what it’s like to learn clicker training, which is forcing me to re-learn almost everything I know about obedience training with a new dog?  Tessa and Josephine, old hands at routine, are settled down and napping without any promptings from me. Gracie, our Pit Bull Terrier (mixed breed) finished off her stuffed kong and then proceeded to chortle and whine, making it loudly clear that she did not want to stay in her crate. Naturally, I ignored her, got busy with some time-wasting online activity … and all of a sudden, the entire house filled with a blissful silence. I can actually hear the words I’m typing speaking to my in my head.

Gracie, my son and I are doing homework from our third obedience class. Except that it’s not an obedience class, it’s a “manners” class. We’re not “training” Gracie, we are “shaping” Gracie’s behavior. It’s almost a new world of language, cues and reinforcement. Uh, am I allowed to use that last word?

We are very late to the world of clicker training.  Not late to knowing about it, but late to working with it. Well, I am. My son? This is the first obedience manners class he’s participated in with a dog so he doesn’t know any different. For me, it’s only now beginning to feel like it makes sense and that’s after I went online and searched for clicker training Youtube videos, chatted up my dog-savvy friends, and, oh yeah, practiced with Gracie.

I’ve just ordered The Thinking Dog, by Gail Tamases Fisher, a book that I would never have found on my own. So thank you, Gail, for your wise suggestion.

What’s interesting is that I know how to be positive with dogs – that negative reinforcement  certain training methods really suck are bad.

Some things that I’ve learned in the past three weeks:

1.  Practice between training manners classes is still necessary

2.  Emotions still do travel down the leash so if you’re in a pissy mood, don’t try to work have fun with your dog

3.  10 -15 minute sessions at different times during the day (every day) help:  What worked today was a quick session of “touch” when I came back from my yoga class. All of the dogs had been tucked into crates for two hours while I was out. Once back home, they went out into the back yard in shifts (first Tessa and Josephine, then Gracie and me) and then we all ended up in the kitchen. I ate lunch. Gracie chewed up cardboard. Tessa watched Gracie and Josephine snoozed. Pulling a zip lock plastic bag out of the fridge (filled with tiny, tiny chunks of cheddar cheese) and grabbing a clicker,  conveniently stashed into the cloth treat bag that I can stick to the side of the refridgerator (God bless magnets) we started to work play.

It takes a bit of hand-coordination finger ballet to palm 3-4 cheese chunks and a clicker into one hand.  The other hand is held down at your side, palm facing outward. You say, “Gracie touch!” As Gracie touches her nose to my open palm, I simultaneously click the clicker, wait 1-2 seconds and give her one of those very tiny chunks of cheddar.  Sounds pretty simple but I will tell you that we learned this in last Tuesday’s class. Four days later, I’m finally figuring it out.

What’s cool is that Tessa learned “touch” by watching Gracie and me. She also learned to nail a sit as soon as she sees the clicker. Not sure if this is a good or a not-so-good behavior from her.

4.  Gracie makes my son and I look good:  We are lucky.  Other than the fact that she likes to pull on leash (because she wants to get there, wherever “there” is), Gracie is an easy dog.  She likes other dogs,  is laid back,  and is, as I noted in an earlier post, quietly smart. She’ll figure out what it is that her humans are trying to shape and she’ll more than meet us half way.

If I have to re-learn what I thought I already knew about what happens at both ends of the leash, Gracie is the icing on the cake!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *