CLICKER DOG TRAINING

Clicker dog training is a positive reward based training technique. Puppies usually find this fun. Turning training into a game gets good results. The Clicker is a good way to let your dog know he has done something right. It is consistent and unlike the tone of your voice, will not change.  It acts as an indicator that your dog has done as he is asked and will get a reward for doing so.

It means you can reward good behaviour as it is happening.  Clicking exactly when your dog is doing what you ask of him will mark the moment.  Offer the reward immediately.  What you are doing is ‘conditioning’ your dog to know that the sound of the clicker will indicate a reward.

You will need to use really tasty treats.  Small pieces of cheese, hot dog sausage or liver treats work well.

How to start

Only use one click. Never point the clicker at the dogs face. It is a good idea to have the clicker behind your back especially if you are training a puppy.  Some dogs are very sound sensitive and may find the clicker sound frightening at first. Try to muffle the sound.  This technique will not be successful with a dog nervous of the clicker so use a different training method.

To get started, just click followed by a treat to build up association with the sound.  You can do this around the house at regular intervals so the dog has time to understand it.   When you click and your dog looks up at you, you know you have conditioned the clicker.

Clicker dog training differs from the traditional methods in that the behaviour has to be well understood before using a command i.e. verbal or hand movement. The dog needs to understand what the specific behaviour is before giving it a name.  You can start to introduce the ‘cue’ when the dog confidently repeats the behaviour and understands that it earns a reward.

You can now give the behaviour a name e.g. ‘sit’.  When you see your dog about to sit down, click and reward.  Repeat this each time he goes to sit. Then introduce the cue ‘sit’. Ask the dog to sit, click and reward as soon as it has been actioned.    Gradually, clicker dog training can be faded out once the dog is performing the behaviour with verbal cue.  The dog will quickly learn to listen or watch for its cue. It will associate the cue with doing as asked and getting a tasty reward.

Some tips

  • Your dog will sometimes get it wrong.  Consistency and repetition is the key. Take a break if you are getting frustrated and/or the dog is tiring.
  • If you are using treats as reward, make sure your dog’s food intake is reduced so he does not put on weight.  During training you can get through quite a lot of treats!
  • Don’t use the cue words until you are sure your dog will get it right.  Eg. Asking him to sit means straight away.  If he doesn’t do what you ask, then he does not get the reward.
  • Take your time and give clear commands. Always stay calm.
  • If you click, always treat.

How long should the clicker be used?

Once the behaviour is learned, there is no need to use the clicker as the dog is understanding what you are asking him to do.  The clicker and treats can be gradually faded out.  Good behaviour is maintained by replacing with praise and a favourite toy or ball as a reward.  This is known as variable reinforcement.  The dog may not know when he is going to get a reward which makes the behaviour stronger.  He will keep repeating in the hope of getting a reward!  Clicker training can be used for any new behaviour.  Once the basics have been established you can move on to more advanced training.

To recap on clicker training

  •  It is important to remember that a click is always followed with a treat.  This ensures that the strength of the clicker is maintained.  You don’t have to constantly use the clicker once the behaviour is established.
  • Remember the click is not the reward or command – it is simply a way to say “Well done, you did it right”.  Only click when your dog has done what you want it to.
  • Tasty food treats as a stimulating reward tend to work the best. Or you can use balls, toys or just lots of praise and cuddles.
  • You can guide your dog with treats to get them into the position you want (this is luring).  Click as soon as they have got it right and give the treat. The lure can then be faded out.

Most importantly, have fun training your dog or puppy.

Good luck!

 

 

 

Lead Walking

Most dog owners just want to have relaxed and enjoyable walks with their dog. It is not necessary to achieve competition level of heel walking with the dog glued to the leg, but a relaxed happy dog walking at your side on a loose lead. It’s okay to have them a little in front or behind as long as the lead is loose.

Are you being pulled around by your dog when you lead walk? It’s not much fun and a very common problem and probably one of the hardest behaviours to correct, especially if you have a high energy dog. Once you start lead training you will need to be consistent and it may take some time to achieve, so patience is a virtue!

Dogs pull because :

  • their comfortable pace is at a trot and we are not walking fast enough
  • the environment is stimulating
  • they pull and they get to sniff where they want, get to the park for play, greet another dog etc., so they are getting rewarded for pulling
  • because we allow them to

When there is tension on the lead the dog will instinctively pull to make sure he is going to get where he wants to go.

There are many harnesses and head collars on the market which are designed to stop your dog pulling. In my opinion, the only best method to stop pulling is to train your dog not to pull on the lead using a flat lead and a traditional collar. Using other equipment may be a quick fix solution, but as soon as you take the harness or collar off, your dog will instinctively pull again. The use of choke and prong collars or anything that inflicts pain on the dog, is absolutely not an option.

There are many methods to use in training, but the best solution is to stop giving your dog the opportunity to move forward as soon as he pulls on the lead. Start the walk with your dog walking nicely at your side, as soon as he pulls you immediately stop in your tracks and give a command for him to come back to you. Wait for him to return and ask him to sit and give a treat as a reward for returning. Start off again and repeat. You may not get far from the house on the first few occasions, but do persevere as this will work. As your dog progresses and manages to stay at your side for a few trots, reward with a treat whilst walking and praise him. If it is worth his/her while walking at your side they will do it! Gradually you can decrease the food treats but always praise and talk to your dog so he/her knows they’re pleasing you.

Remember to always walk purposefully and at a good pace which is also good exercise for you!

Dog Collars and Leads

There are many types of dog leads and collars on the market and it is trial and error to find the right one to suit you and your dog. You may find you will need a particular type of lead for different activities and training. Training your dog to walk well and to heel on the lead is a lot harder than it sounds as many of you may have already found out!

The slip lead is a collar and lead in one. The slip loop goes over your dog’s head and should have a stopper to keep it in place. They are made in a variety of products, but usually rope or leather. It is best to get a fairly thick lead for your dog’s comfort. These leads are particularly favoured by the gun dog owner and those who live in rural locations for it’s ease of use, quickly put on and off for off lead exercise or working. It is not recommended for dogs that pull hard or for long distance walking with your dog. There is a right and wrong way to use a slip lead and the ring and leather toggle on the lead should be facing downward on the side you are walking your dog on, i.e. towards you on your right if you are walking your dog on your right. The slip lead should be placed above your dog’s collar and high up under his jaw so the lead does not get too tight and damage your dog’s neck or throat. Keeping it the right way will allow the lead to slacken off when not pulled and the dog is walking nicely to heel.

The retractable / extendable lead is a lead made up of cord or tape wound on to a spring loaded device within a plastic handle. It will extend or retract as your dog walks away and towards you and it is controlled by a button on the handle which acts as a lock to determine how much lead you want extended. Dog walkers like this product as it can give the dog more freedom to wander and sniff without being off lead. It can also be useful for countryside walks where there are cows and sheep grazing to keep your dog close without too much restriction. However, there are drawbacks to this type of lead :

a) You do not have so much control over your dog. The lead should be locked when walking by a road. You should never let your dog extend too far when walking by the road as given the opportunity he could run into the road into traffic. It also gives him the opportunity to jump up at passers-by or pull towards other dogs.

b) When extended it is easy to get tangled in bushes and around other dog walkers when two excited dogs meet!

c) The cord could snap, especially if you have a strong dog who suddenly lunges forward in full throttle after something interesting. The cord or tape in these products does get worn over time and more susceptible to breaking, so you should replace this item regularly.

d) Your dog gets used to pulling forward to gain extra ground and that makes traditional lead training more difficult to achieve.

e) When approaching other dogs, your dog pulling at the end of the retractable lead may give out the wrong signal as a sign of aggression and lead to confrontation.

f) The handle is big and bulky and may be dropped or pulled from your hand, especially if you have other items to hold. If your dog lunges forward quickly it can also badly jolt your arm and if you have a particularly strong dog, could pull you over.

The flat lead is a traditional lead of up to 6 feet long. They can be adjustable in length and clip on to a traditional collar or harness. Some leads have a shock absorbing ability by stretching slightly if your dog lunges forward.

The harness is said by some to be the best item to use if your dog pulls on the lead, but many trainers will disagree and will not recommend it. Their argument is that if you want a dog to pull a sledge, then put on a harness. The strongest part of the dog is its chest and that is where the strength to pull comes from. Using a harness is therefore encouraging your dog to pull and is little use in training against it. However, that said, many dog owners find that the harness is more comfortable for them to keep their dog in check and have to control without injuring the neck of the dog. Many dogs do not like wearing the harness as some products will chaff around the legs. If you do decide to use the harness, make sure it is a style that is well padded for comfort.

Traditional dog collars are probably the best option. A good leather collar with a buckle is hard wearing and safest. Try to avoid collars that have the plastic clip action as these can sometimes fail and come apart giving the dog the opportunity to escape.

Never use evasive collars that are designed to inflict pain when the dog pulls, such as the electric collars that give strong pulsation jolts or even electric shocks, choke or prong collar. These collars are horrific, unkind and can cause all kind of emotional and physical injury. The prong collar has spikes that will puncture the dog’s skin when pulled tight. Over time this can create scar tissue that has no feeling so the dog eventually does not react to it, as well as possibly displaying extreme anxiety and aggressive behaviour.

Always measure your dog’s neck before purchasing a collar, which should be big enough to fit two fingers underneath. Not too tight or too loose to slip over the dog’s head.

Traditionally, dog whistles were considered the domain of the gun dog and herding dog handler, but they are now becoming increasingly popular with trainers as well as dog owners who want to achieve better distance control of their dogs.

You can use a dog whistle for almost any command, but the primary benefit is to communicate the commands you are likely to need when your dog is at a distance from you. Although there are ‘standard’ commands, you don’t need to stick rigidly to these. The most important thing with dog whistle training is consistency, so decide on your signals and make sure you stick to them.

The three main standard dog whistle commands generally used are:

Action required Verbal command Whistle command
Sitting at a  distance Sit One long blast with your hand raised and open
Calling to you Here or Come Multiple whistle pips with both arms outstretched to side
Redirect to another direction Two whistle pips and arm outstretched to new direction

Getting started with dog whistle training

Using the whistle at first may take a bit of getting used to.  Practice producing short sharp pips and long blasts.

Calling your dog to you:

The most important action to master is the recall and it is necessary that your dog knows that coming back to you is going to be rewarding!  Use treats and plenty of fuss when they return and never punish your dog regardless of how long it took to get him back from what he was doing before!

Recalling a young puppy is usually easy as they are not confident enough to move too far away from you.  Take advantage of this time to create a recall practice.  Get him/her used to the dog whistle and coming back to you when commanded. Whistle him/her to come at feed time or for a treat or toy. They will soon learn that something good happens when they return!

Practice recall in the garden and when out walking. Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone in terms of your own behaviour.  Clapping your hands, jumping up and down and generally making yourself noticeable and interesting will get their attention.  However, if this doesn’t work, try running in the opposite direction to your dog as their natural chase instinct nearly always brings them running.  Make sure you give plenty of praise when they do get back!

The Distant Sit:  This is an important command to master early in your dog whistle training programme. When your dog is in the sit position, you are more likely to have their full attention to any follow up commands. The added benefit of mastering this command is that it stabilises any situation.

 

Assuming your dog has mastered the close up sit command accompanied by a raised hand signal. Start to replace the verbal command with the whistle. (i.e. hand signal and whistle).  This is one long blast.  If they do not respond, then add the verbal command to reinforce your request until they are used to the whistle.  With practice your dog will gradually respond to just the whistle.  You will need to build this up slowly, so start with practicing a few steps back, praise when they get it right and gradually extend the distance.   It will take a number of sessions to build up distance, so have patience and take it slowly.

With the distant sit mastered in your dog whistle training you can then start to introduce the whistle to recall. To start with, you could just whistle yourself unaided and gradually move onto the dog whistle as your distances increase.  Practice walking away from them a short distance, then using the pip-pip to recall. Sometimes return to your dog instead of doing the recall. This will stop your dog anticipating the command or always assume a sit/stay is followed by a recall.

Unless you use your dog for shooting or herding, most people are happy to achieve distant sits and a good recall with their dog whistle training However, if you want to know more about gun dog training the following links are useful.

Labrador and Spaniel whistles and trialer whistles are available from Paws Plus One website.