A blog about dog training and dog breeding…and other sundry matters

Posts tagged ‘clicker training dogs’

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: An Inconsistent Approach to Dog Training

So tonight I took Gretchen into the yard to train her for the first time in many weeks.   Since my work schedule went crazy in early April, my poor dogs’ training suffered.  Now that my schedule has regained a bit of sanity, it’s now frightfully hot.  My training is still restricted, but this time to indoor work at night. That’s the joy of living in the tropics.

Although Gretchen has retained quite a bit of training, I’m appalled at how much she has left to learn!  Yikes.  She hasn’t learned the formal recall (her informal one is quite good, at least in my yard), and she hasn’t learned the heel, either.  She’s seven months old.

Gretchen does her sits and downs pretty well in the house.  She’ll sit out in the garden on cue, but is VERY reluctant to go into a down.

It is not uncommon for dogs to perform behaviors perfectly on cue in one location but not seem to understand the same cue in another.  An extreme example would be the dog that will give you a sit very quickly and enthusiastically at home, but once he’s at the vets or in some other new environment, he suddenly has no idea what sit means.

The dog is not being stubborn or “hard ears.”  The real reason for this annoying and sometimes embarrassing breakdown in training is simple:  dogs do not generalize.  “Sit” in your living room doesn’t necessarily mean “sit” in your kitchen, in your backyard, front yard, the vets, etc.

So, with Gretchen I took a deep breath, swallowed my pride, admitted that I am inconsistent with my work, and went back to basics.  When she was a babe of about five weeks, I taught her the down by capturing the behavior.  Now that she’s older and had already learned the down, I decided to root around in my training arsenal and try a different approach.  I tried luring.

Now I’m not a huge fan of luring because I feel that it adds more steps to the learning process, at least the way I use luring; and if it’s not done correctly, the dog could become dependent upon the food lure in your hand.  In order for luring to be effective in the long run, it is essential that the food lure be faded as quickly as possible within the training session.

As it turned out, I had to lure only twice before Gretchen caught on.  After two attempts I took away the food but continued using the downward motion of my hand (as though I had food in my hand), and added the “down” cue.  She performed beautifully and consistently.

Alas, it was late in the afternoon and the mosquitoes descended upon us, threatening to exsanguinate me.  I ended the session and returned to the house with my dog.

At 16 Weeks…

the puppies have come a long way.  I no longer have to train in “the classroom” (the kitchenette in the guest quarters) because the puppies’ attention spans have increased.  Accidents in the house are a thing of the past, but I continue to be vigilent.  Now that I am on Christmas vacation, the puppies get more time in the house.  So it is vital that I follow the Housetraining Tip of the Day # 4 (I think it is) and be sure to take them outside during play time and after naps, and of course after meals.

Tuvok and Gretchen know a bunch of behaviors, but I’m still shaping quite a few, like the downs and stands.  We began the stands yesterday, and I have just put the down on cue with them.  Sits are quite fluent and will happen in most situations.

I’m particularly proud of my star puppy, Tuvok.  He went to his first dog show on Sunday and behaved most admirably, and did a few cute things.  For instance at the entrance to the grounds he found a discarded empty water bottle.  He picked it up and walked around with it in his mouth for a bit.  He never growled or barked at anyone, and allowed people to pet him. He stook still and didn’t complain when a vet checked to see that his testicles had descended.

I will use this vacation time to do intense work with the puppies and Athena.   The latter will be doing obedience trials in 2010.  I’m hoping that maybe the puppies will be able to do Novice at the end of the year.  I’m not pushing them, however, they are puppies and training right now is a lot of fun for them.  It is too, for Athena, who will gets excited when I pick up the clicker, and follow me around the house offering me behaviors just to see which one will earn the click.  I really must come up with a cue that tells the dog “we aren’t training right now.”

Being a Successful Clicker Trainer–Tip 10

Use treats for training new behaviors, and toys/games for motivation after the behavior is learned.  Using treats in the initial stages of teaching a behavior allows for the learning process to progress without breaking the dog’s concentration, and it is faster.  Bring out the toy when you’re training for latency or to provide further motivation.

Being a Successful Clicker Trainer–Tip 9

Break behaviors down into small components.  This is especially true if you are shaping a behavior, which is actually a very powerful way to train.  If you are training a “down,” for instance, and the dog is not readily offering you one, you may click the individual movements that make up the “down.” So at first you’d maybe click and treat the dog’s head moving downwards first.  Then after the dog readily offers you the lowered head, the next thing he’d most likely do is extend a paw.  Click and treat that.  Before long you will be clicking and treating both elbows on the ground.

Being a Successful Clicker Trainer-Tip 8

Train when your dog is hungry.  The best time to train is just before his dinner time.  You can use part of the dog’s dinner as his reward, if he really enjoys his food, or you can use something that the dog doesn’t usually get to eat.  The treat should be something that the dog really enjoys.

Being a Successful Clicker Trainer–Tip 7

Fade lures early.  If you use lures to get behaviors (not my favorite way to train), then be sure to fade the lure after 3-5 repetitions.

What NOT to do in Dog Training: Mistakes of a Dog Trainer

Athena is Stressed

Athena is Stressed

Yesterday’s training session was such a failture, but I learned so much from the experience, and I’m beginning to appreciate the role that photos and video-taking  play in my training sessions.

I took Athena out to a spot that’s nearly 30 miles away from home in order to work her. It’s a beautiful park with flowers and tall trees against a backdrop of mountains.  In this heat, I have to seek out spots with shady trees to train, if I train during the day.  Before we got there, though, I had several stops to make.

Athena had been in the car for about two hours before we finally arrived at our destination, and she jumped out of the car eagerly (on leash, of course), and began sniffing and pulling on her leash.  That should have been my first clue that this dog was way stimulated.  Then she began running circles around me as she watched people and cars pass by.  Her responses to my cues were slow, or sometimes non-existent.  It was as though she was working on autopilot that wasn’t working too well.  She was not too interested in her favorite treats: liver.

But I had my plan for the day, and wanted to get on with it.  I planned on letting her “read” the pee-mail then doing a spot of training, and finally videotaping a short instructional clip on clicker training basics.  A great plan, I thought, but one that lacked focus, detail, and a plan B.  Animals are unpredictable:  sometimes they’ll work for you, sometimes they won’t. 

 One thing I recognized, and I’m glad I did, was that Athena was not being slow and distracted because she was disobedient.  She was overstimulated–too many things demanding her attention.  I expected her to work while she was way over threshold.  I expected to run through the Novice sequence with her, but she was pulling on her leash.

As I look back, I should have focused on “fixing” one issue:  the pulling on the leash, and not worry about precision heeling, or moving sits, or recalls.  Goal-oriented that I am, I persisted, then to add insult to injury, whenever she didn’t do what I wanted, I said “No,” or “Eh eh”—those well-worn NRMs (no-reward markers) that adds stress to an already stressed out dog.

In the photo you can see signs of stress in Athena.  Notice how her ears are back and she’s licking her nose.  Move your cursor over the image and click for a larger view.

Here’s what I could have done differently:

  • Concentrate on fixing one thing—pulling on the leash, and using the Premack Principle as a reward (letting her do something she really wants when she does something I want)
  • Work in a smaller area instead of trying to walk the entire park with her.
  • Ditch the NRMs, especially in this situation.

 Sometimes in training, the trainer must shelve, at least temporarily, his agenda and attend to the immediate needs of the animal.

Being a Successful Clicker Trainer — Tip 6

Distance. Now that your dog will sit for up to a minute with one or two distractions, you may add distance.  In Tip 5 you practiced walking circles around your dog.  Now that your dog is accustomed to you shifting positions, adding distance is simple.  After your dog sits on cue, take one step ahead of him then turn and face him.  At this point you do not want to combine duration yet, so return to him, then click and treat. Once he gets this and sits comfortably, gradually add steps away from him, one step at a time before you stop to face him. 

stay tuned for Tip 7

Being a Successful Clicker Trainer–Tip 5

Distractions.  Once the dog is sitting comfortably and reliably for about 45-55 seconds, add one distraction, like walking once around the dog.  Some dogs will get up if you try to walk around them.  That’s normal, but you don’t want him to get into the habit of breaking position.  To prevent this, simply move one small step at a time, remembering to click and treat if the dog stays while you move.   So instead of walking completely around the dog, ending up with him on your left side, simply take one step and stand in front of him.  Click and treat.  Remember to stay close to him as you do this.  Gradually add further steps once the dog begins to get comfortable, until you are walking circles around the dog.  Gradually add more distractions one at a time, like pulling out his favorite toy and simply holding it, then later squeaking the toy, then perhaps tossing the toy into the air and catching it.

Tomorrow we will work on adding distance.  Stay tuned.  You can also follow me on twitter for updates.

Being a Successful Clicker Trainer-Tip 4

Work on the Three Ds separately–these are duration, distance, distractions.  After your dog sits on cue fluently, only then do you begin to add duration (the stay).  To do this, simply delay the click incrementally by seconds.  So at first you’ll click after counting 1-po-tat-o (these four syllables take one second to say).  After the dog sits reliably for one second, then increase to 2-po-tat-o.  If the dog gets up, or shifts position, put him back in a sit, and increase the duration by a fraction of a second. So this time you’ll click and treat only after counting 1, or 1-po, gradually adding syllables as needed. 

Tomorrow we will work on adding distractions, one at a time.  Stay tuned.  You can also follow me on twitter for updates.

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