Monday, September 08, 2008

What's a click, anyway?

I love my clicker, have I told you that? Whenever Mum gets it out, I go nuts, start offering behaviors, hoping that I hit on just the behavior that Mum was looking for, waiting for that click, and knowing that a yummy treat is soon on the way.

Mum has been using a clicker with me and Gracie since the very first day we came to live with her. Mum didn't know anything about clicker training before she got me, four years ago. But when she picked me up at the shelter, and took me to the local pet store to get all the puppy supplies we would need, the clerk at the store said to Mum, 'are you going to clicker train your pup?'

Mum didn't have a clue what that meant, so she and the clerk talked about it and Mum loved the idea. So she bought a clicker and a clicker introduction book, and we were off to a life of fun learning, and bonding through clicker training behaviors from potty training, to staying, to tricks, to walking well on a leash, to agility, and more!

We are by no means experts in clicker training, so over the past years, we've frequented Karen Pryor's Clicker Training website a lot to learn and expand our knowledge. She has loads of articles, videos and books about the subject.

Mum uses a clicker sparingly with me, because of how I react to it. But Mum has been using a clicker a lot with Gracie, to help her understand she's doing the right thing when she and Mum train in agility. Gracie needs a lot of reassurance and reinforcement to help her get over her stress in agility. Lately Mum has been getting 'trigger happy.' And, as our Trainer so rightly pointed out the other day, Mum has been getting so trigger happy, that she was clicking to get Gracie's attention (unknowingly, of course). Oops!

Mum's been working on cleaning up her clicker act. And she's started thinking a lot about when she clicks, for what she clicks, and why she clicks. She wants to make sure that when she clicks, it tells us that we did exactly what she asked, when she asked, and just how she asked. Mum is paying a lot more attention now and only clicks the minute we do the exact behavior she requested, well, as best as her timing will allow. That works for us.

There is a lot of talk about shaping (vs. luring) in training in the dog world lately, well in my dog world anyway. Karen Pryor sums up shaping this way, "The word "shaping" is scientific slang for building a particular behavior by using a series of small steps to achieve it. Shaping allows you to create behavior from scratch without physical control or corrections, but rather by drawing on your animal's natural ability to learn." Karen has some great articles about shaping on her website.

Why do they say shaping is better than luring? They say that the dog offers the behavior, in stages; is thinking on his own, and with that comes better learning and better understanding.

When you lure you are basically telling the dog what to do; like showing your dog a treat on the opposite side of a hoop and luring them through. But with shaping you have the hoop on hand, stationary, introducing it and letting the dog interact with it, clicking as they get interested, then increasing the difficulty requirement, until they are going through the hoop. See this vid of a great example. (Although, I think I saw just a hint of luring in there, the first time the pup goes through the hoop).

Mum has some views on clicking. When she asks us to do a specific behavior, like a sit, she clicks when our butts hit the ground. When we are doing a long stretch of behaviors, like weaving, she clicks several times through the weaves if we are making all the poles, and have the speed through them that she likes. She clicks more times through a long stretch of behavior, like weaves to give us the clue that we are doing just the right thing. Now that she's paying more attention again to when she is clicking, she's getting much better at it, and we are learning faster.

But Mum uses the clicker differently for both of us. Like I said, when Mum gets out the clicker, I start offering behaviors right and left; I go through my repertoire of 'tricks' and if Mum waits for me to get to the one she is looking for, I go nuts, I can't focus, I just get wild. I'm a doer and if I don't get the right behavior, and hear the click, I start barking like a mad man, whining and getting all tense and nervous. I want to know what I'm supposed to do, right now!

Some may say, Mum created this very behavior. Maybe she did, but that's me. So Mum uses more luring with me. She knows that it helps me learn better and more easily if I know what to do, I don't get 'frustrated' with the game. I pick up tricks and behaviors very quickly, and the behaviors Mum has taught me have stuck with me like glue.

Gracie is very different. She's more unsure, she's more of a thinker, a 'what's in it for me' kind of dog. She looks to Mum for direction a lot and she's been focusing on the treats more than doing the behaviors. Mum wanted her to start thinking on her own more and not always be thinking about the treat coming her way. So, after big discussion and with the advice of our trainer, Mum started using more shaping techniques with Gracie, to help her learn on her own, and think on her own. Like when we posted about the running contacts and using the mouse pad. Mum wanted Gracie to go for that target on her own, love the target, just as much as she loves food. So, with our trainers help, Mum did more shaping to teach Gracie this behavior, and it has worked really well.

A lot of people have theories about clicker training, a lot of people have advice about shaping vs. luring, but we can't help but wonder: should it, or does it have to be just one way for every dog? Aren't we different in personalities, aren't our needs different? Do we all learn exactly the same? Do we all have the same motivation?

If you look at Gracie and I, we are total opposites. We learn a bit differently and we have different motivations for learning, I think. But we are getting good results even though Mum is training us differently.

Mum, Gracie and I love to try new things and are always learning. So what do you think, do you use the same exact training techniques for all your different dog personalities? Or, do you vary your training plans and process for each individual dog?


  1. I agree, each dog is different. Guiness does better with luring to learn a behavior. If I try to shape, he gets to frusturated. But Miley really likes shaping. She learned very quickly different behaviors just through shaping. So I think both can work well, just depends on your dog. Thats just my opinion. Diana

  2. Glad to know that I'm not alone in thinking that each dog is different.

    Sometimes I wonder if Mum would have done shaping with me earlier, when I was younger, that maybe I would like it more now; like Gracie does. Because Mum did shaping with Gracie much earlier than with me.

    Hmmmmm...more thoughts to ponder.

    Thanks Diane!

  3. I've got better with the clicker as time goes by, as well. I'm much better / confident at timing the click than I used to be and I think Jake picks that up. He's clever - he strings things together that I never would have guessed and the clicker is a great bridge. We've learned to use the clicker - or you might say,we've trained each other using the clicker to communicate. I only have one hound at the moment, but to me it makes perfect sense every dog is different.

  4. Two paws up! Each pup is different, learns differently and is motivated by different things at different times. That's what makes working with us fun and challenging for our two-legged friends. Woofs, Kharma

  5. Three of the four dogs with whom I've used clickers as a training aid have responded beautifully. One dog--who came to live with me when he was almost 7 years old--was notoriously difficult to teach new things to. He was happy and eager to please, but had a brain the size of half a pea. (Poor sweet little multiple-agility-champion dog!) It took me 6 months to teach him to shake! When I'd get the clicker out, he'd sit there and stare at me. For hours. I'd try wandering around and ignoring him to get him to do something different so that I could shape being a dog who can be shaped, you know? But at the first click, wham, he'd sit and start staring at me again. And I never EVER used the clicker with him for sitting!

    Funny stuff. So I had to lure or coax him somehow into doing things that I wanted. That's just how it was.


  6. And you thought my Mum was patient! Yikes, Ellen, you've got it over her in spades.

    At first Gracie would kind of sit there and look at Mum, but the more Mum shaped with her, the more she would begin offering behaviors, more often and more frequently.

    Woofs to you Karma, I too love the differences in us pups. Makes it more educational and fun.

  7. Great Post! And it is true that each dog is different, I'm glad your Mum has recognized that, then you can both be the best you can! :)


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