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Shirley's Clicker Training Lessons
Discussion - Lessons 1-3

Lessons 1 and 2

I've been absolutely fascinated by what people are doing with the lessons and the things they are learning. I had a fear that I was starting at way too basic a level and everyone would be bored to tears (or not even want to try it) and I'm so relieved to see that it was okay!

Now, as to what I was intending to teach! Some people brushed very close to it in their answers. These two lessons weren't really about training a dog to do anything in particular - they were about finding out about a given dog's learning style and maybe a given trainer's learning style as well. I think it's difficult to train any animal if you don't find out what that particular animal's learning style is; you might just stumble into an effective combination (animal fits your training style), or you might have such a frustrating time of it that you'd start wondering if the animal were trainable.

With these two lessons, there were two different training styles with one possible option and several options for responses.

Lesson One was about training an animal without pressure. There are some trainers who naturally train without pressure, some trainers who have learned how to train without pressure and then there's the rest of us--we pour on the pressure because that's our natural training style. I don't know how to teach anyone how to train without pressure but I can try to set up situations where a person can actually train without pressure and hope that you can then make the leap to doing it deliberately. That is why I wanted people to focus on something away from the dog.

Also, I wanted to show people just how much they can observe about the dog without directly staring at the dog. A lot of people don't realize that they can be doing something else and still train the dog. I tend to disconcert my students in class because I will appear to be watching the student and then suddenly pop out with a comment about what their dog is doing. There's sort of a trick to learning how to observe without staring; once you've stumbled onto the trick you can develop the ability until you can observe quite a bit of behavior without seeming to notice.

If there's a secret to dog training (which I don't truly believe there is) it is that the more you observe dogs behaving, the more you see. And the more you see, the more you observe. Learning how to keep an eye on a dog while focusing elsewhere gives you that much more opportunity to see what dogs do.

Lesson Two was about training with pressure (for most people; people who have figured out how to train without pressure can do it even while looking right at the dog). For most people, focusing intently on the dog and trying for a fast response tends to cause them to pour on the pressure.

For the dogs, Lesson One was interesting. There were a few dogs who were actually more engaged than usual. They tried hard to get their trainer's attention, they tried to solicit attention, they kept trying to figure out the game and when they had it figured out they kept repeating the successful behavior. No signs of boredom there! For anyone who has ever said "my dog gets bored if we repeat something more than two or three times," that is often symptomatic of a dog who doesn't handle pressure well. They're not bored--they're rather frantically trying to avert the pressure they feel from the handler. But it's a vicious circle because the more "bored" the dog acts, the harder the handler tries to engage them!

For some of the dogs, not having their handler's attention was actually disconcerting and distressing. The handlers of such dogs need to be aware that such dogs are sometimes overly pushy for attention--or a bit prone towards separation anxiety.

A few dogs basically got stuck on one behavior in Lesson One (typically, staring at the handler) or just gave up on trying to figure it out by themselves. If this is combined with a trainer who tends to offer *lots* of help, it might be a good idea for those handlers to try to let the dog do more of the problem solving. Problem solving is a skill and it can be improved only by practice!

Most of the dogs did fairly well with Lesson Two, although there were a few walk arounds and other signs of stress. Most of the handlers decided to lure the behavior (either via a food lure or targeting a hand). And - perhaps not unrelated - very few of the dogs started offering the behavior on their own. I do believe that a behavior that started out lured can become very strong but what I observe is that behaviors that are shaped are more likely to be offered sooner--in other words, shaped behaviors are stronger sooner.

The reason I started out with downs and rolling on the side for the two lessons is that all dogs *know* how to do them. There are dogs that don't sit much or at all on their own, but I have yet to meet a dog that doesn't down or roll on the side every day. So even though the two lessons looked quite different, philosophically they were opposite sides of the same tree.

So, in light of this, what did you learn? <grin!>

Lesson 3

The lesson was teaching Doggie Zen: to get the treat, you must give up the treat.

The first question was: Why do you have to leave your hand within the dog's reach? Why not just pull it up and away from the dog until they sit or do some other behavior?

My thinking goes like this: what Doggie Zen is doing is teaching the dog the very beginnings of self control. Dogs are not born knowing self control. They see something they want and they go after it (unless there are extenuating circumstances). No dog has ever been born that stops to say "is nabbing the steak off the kitchen counter really a good idea?" Unless given a reason to believe that things might not go their way, they leave the philosophical speculations up to the humans and nab the steak. A lot of what people do is essentially teaching the dog "wanting something is not a good reason to go after it." By taking as many variables out of the equation as possible, it's easier for the dog to learn to hesitate in the presence of something they want. It sounds like a trivial deal but for dogs, it's far from easy.

Now, looking at the situation, I would say it is inaccurate to say I am teaching the dog self control. I can't teach the dog self control.

ALL I CAN DO IS SET UP A SERIES OF SITUATIONS WHERE THE DOG TEACHES ITSELF SELF CONTROL.

This is true of many training situations. The dogs teach themselves--all I do is set up the situation so that the only way they can win will go the way I want.

So that's why I leave my hand within the dog's reach. If I pull my hand up and out of the dog's way, they haven't learned to give up, they've just learned to give me a certain behavior. Now, this behavior is certainly a good thing--but pulling my hand up and out of the dog's reach is hopping over the important part, the part where the dog decides on their own that actively going after the treat will not work, so they should try some other strategy. I can't teach the dog how to make that decision--for one thing, I have no idea how they make that decision. All I can do is set up the situation so that the decision will eventually occur.

The second question was: What can the *handler* learn about training a dog from this exercise?

I'm just like everyone else. I want my dogs to learn fast. I have observed that learning is stressful and frustrating and I don't want my dogs to feel stressed and frustrated. I'm also not the most patient person in the world by a long chalk! I want my dogs to get it and I want them to get it now, if not five minutes ago.

But sometimes the fastest way to get somewhere is not what looks like the most direct route. Some things just have to take their own time and happen in their own way. It's hard to sit back and wait for the dog to figure it out. But I can't force a thought into the dog's head and I can't really force them to do anything.

The third question was: Re-state the Doggie Zen phrase to describe training in general.

Doggie Zen: to get the treat, you must give up the treat. I see this as very close to the training contract: if you do what I want, then I'll do something you want. So it's one way to explain to the dog what the training contract is.



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