Have I been clear enough in expressing just how much I love Clicker Training? Just in case I have NOT made it clear, I’ll spell it out for you: I love Clicker Training. The cat is out of the bag. I think Clicker Training has so many applications and is such an effective behavior modification tool cross species that I cannot dismiss it as my preferred method (anything from lions to gold fish can and have been trained using Clicker Training).
With all that being said, it is not flawless in terms of humans learning the mechanics and processes involved in clicker training. There are quite a few regular problems that crop up, especially with those new to Clicker Training or those who are being self-taught from books/videos. So here is my Troubleshooting guide for Clicker Training.
Uh, I’m not sure my dog knows what the click means, what do I do?
Well, two things can be going on. One is that you haven’t spent enough time “charging” the clicker. Depending on the dog this can take just a day (with several short sessions) up to a week-ish (of daily sessions). If you haven’t given it much time, go back to charging the clicker… simply click and treat repeatedly. The other option is timing–if too much time lapses between the click and the treat, they will not make the connection. So, make sure you click and deliver the treat to them quickly.
I think I’ve made a mistake. I was teaching Rover how to sit, but now when I ask for a sit, he puts is bum to the floor and then stands up a bit (so like he’s sort of bending his back legs but not sitting). I don’t know what happened?!
Well then, more than likely this is a problem with your timing. What makes the clicker such a fantastic tool can also make it somewhat unforgiving. You must click the exact moment the dog does the correct behavior. I’m guessing that you got your dog to sit, but then clicked as you delivered food and he broke the sit. So he associated the food to actually getting out of the sit since that’s when you clicked. Take a moment to set up some click-timing practice. Have a friend/spouse/child bounce a tennis ball and click as the ball hits the ground, or go to a busy park and click as people pass a specific sign, or at the park focus on a person walking and click as their left foot hits the ground, or watch TV and click for camera angle changes. Clicker Training is all about timing…. the wrong timing can leave you accidentally training the wrong behavior.
Fido is great at listening when I have food in my hand but if there is no food, he is pretty stubborn and won’t do what I want.
This might be the most common complaint/issue I hear. Essentially what has happened is that you have taught your dog that the food is PART of the cue–so if the food isn’t there, it’s not the cue. To prevent this, you want to drop food lures within 3-7 repetitions–so you can use a piece of food to lure a dog for a few times(if using lures at all) and then remove the food but keep the hand motion identical (if the dog doesn’t make the connection go back to a food lure for 2 more reps then try again). Make sure that you do not have food in either hand when you are giving cues; also be sure to not place your hand in the treat pouch/pocket/bag until after you click a behavior. I also like to use different treat pouches, bags, pants/coat pockets, etc … I mix things up– I don’t want the pup associating only getting food when I’m wearing a bait bag. I also will sometimes just wear the bait bag or treat pouch with out delivering food.
My dog seems to be gaining weight, I don’t understand!?
First of all, this RARELY ever happens. It’s really, in my opinion, not a very legitimate concern for most dogs/handles–most people automatically feed less during meals for a dog who’s just been stuffed with hot dogs. However, if this indeed happening two suggestions:
1. Feed your dog less on days you are training. The dogs are getting lots of calories (the purpose of food) when they eat the cheese/chicken/hot dogs you use for training greats.
On days my dogs get LOTS of training treats, I completely remove a meal from their daily routine. If we just do a typical series of training sessions I remove a portion of one of their meals.
2. Use their kibble for training treats when you work at the house. So measure out one of their meal’s worth of food and use that to train with. That means the dogs are getting the same amount of food as normal.
Alright, given my side track early in the week, the Clicker Training week will extend into next week with part two of the Troubleshooting Guide. Have a happy and safe fun-filled weekend!