I plan on clicker training my next little pup from the start, because I have learned that 1) the clicking sound gets a dog’s attention faster than verbal sounds, 2) always sounds the same unlike a human voice, and 3) it stimulates a large range of acoustic sensors in the dog’s brain.
Big sentence shortened: a clicker is more effective than words. Especially when a behavior you want has more than one step to accomplish it.
I begin teaching very basic “obedience” commands like sit or down pretty much from our first day together. The reason is that 16 week window where a puppy learns at warp speed, and what they learn sticks with them. Early development periods are vital. I don’t expect a 20 minute wait for it mind you, but to at least know the sit and such.
I’m more interested in rewarding attentiveness, touching, tugging, mouthing, nose poking, and “finding” for a young SD candidate, to make their retrieving, opening, and other tasks easier later on. These are common behaviors of most any puppy, so “capturing” it is easy. (See Helpful Techniques) to right.
Since that 16 week window goes by so fast, I focus on laying task foundations and socializing more than obedience class. I want to have established the idea at least of finding, opening, picking up, and nose poking before spending too much time on down stays. Probably by 11 or 12 weeks, though, it will be obedience “class” at home or at a training center.
I’ve also decided to use a method of formal obedience training that’s already laid out for me this time, not to mention it’s tried and true. Sue Ailsby has created what she calls “Levels” http://www.sue-eh.ca/page24/page26/page10/ for the “formal” training. In other words, come, sit and down, and stay.
From all I’ve read (and tried) of clicker training, there are 3 iron clad commandments: shape slow, click fast, and reward fast. Sue explains it very simply:
The first is Criteria. Criteria is what you’re expecting from the dog. Poor trainers ask for a lot in one lump…Lumpers look for a complete, perfect behaviour from the beginning. They want to tell a dog to stay, toss a dumbell across the room, tell him to get it, have him bring it back and sit perfectly straight in front of them, hand it to them, then return on command to heel position. That’s a big lump. And if something goes wrong with part of that lump, it’s very difficult to fix it, buried as it is in the middle of the lump.
Great trainers, on the other hand, split behaviours into tiny bits (surprisingly, this is called “splitting”). There’s no problem correcting a poor dumbell pickup if picking it up has been taught in six small stages. Simply identify which of the six stages has the problem and retrain it the way you want it…When you have a problem – or, preferably BEFORE you have a problem – why not write down your training splits for each behaviour, and exactly what your criteria is for each small split?
The second problem area to examine is Rate of Reinforcement. Effective trainers give information to dogs at a rate up to five times faster than less effective trainers. Sophisticated clicker-trained dogs can work for several minutes at a time with no further information from their trainers, but even clicker-savvy dogs will quit if they aren’t getting enough reinforcement. Beginner dogs don’t have the stamina of their more advanced sisters and are frequently labeled “stubborn” or “bored”. In reality, these dogs just need more information. In the first stages of training, a dog should be getting clicked at LEAST every couple of seconds. A dog that can’t seem to focus on the training can frequently be brought back by ten or twenty treats given, one at a time, as fast as the trainer can hand them over. This is called Rapid-Fire Reinforcement. Sometimes you can almost hear the dog saying “Oh! THIS is more like it! There IS a reason to play this game!” And finally, to solve a problem, look at your Timing. If you’re getting behaviour that follows or precedes the behaviour you really wanted, you probably aren’t hitting the correct behaviour with the click.
That’s the “basics” for us humans, and I have to get the basics sharp and fast if I want my puppy to, right? What doesn’t usually get mentioned is the human’s attitude. It has to be fun for us too. We have to enjoy it, or our attitude rubs off on the pup. So if I’m feeling “driven”, “pressured”, “irritable”…well, what would be the point of making a puppy feel pressured?
This is supposed to be fun, for you and your puppy, or “working” later will be drudgery to them and you too. Sit back and be amazed at how fast and how uniquely your little pup uses that brain of theirs!