Monday, April 11, 2011

The Clicker Crossover: Paradigm Shift

I wish I'd picked up a clicker sooner.

A month or more ago, when I got food for Elka at the Tractor Supply Company (the only place around here with Taste of the Wild food), I saw a bunch of clickers hanging on one of those little plastic racks in the aisle, and thought, "hey, why not?"  Why not sooner, is the question, really.

I brought the clicker home. I "loaded the clicker", which is not to say I put bullets in it, but rather, I made the click significant for the dog. I had Elka in the room with me, and I would click, give her a treat, click, give her a treat. She wasn't doing anything for it, yet. Or reacting to it, yet, though towards the end of the "Loading bar", shall we call it, she sure was. Click, treat, click, treat. Okay. Then we worked with things she already knew. Sit, click, treat. Down, click, treat. High five, click, treat.  Spin, click, treat.

All you physically need for clicker training is a clicker, and treats. Well, and a dog, in this case.
Mentally, to do clicker training, you need patience, good timing, and you need to have criteria in mind. You need to know what you want the dog to do in order to get a click.  You can then get there by luring, as I mentioned in the Command Clinic: Sit post.  Or you can get there through shaping, which requires extra patience.  Shaping is when you sit there with a clicker, a dog (in this case) and a handful of treats and wait for the dog to meet the criteria.

So, to illustrate this, after the clicker was established, we moved to "101 things to do with a box" (explained here on the Canine University web page.) Only I used a bucket, because Elka has been suspicious of boxes. Essentially, it goes like this:  You get treats, a clicker, the dog, the box (or bucket). You put the bucket on the floor. You decide what behavior you want to work up to. The dog looks at it. Click, treat. Look, click, treat. Eventually, the dog will sniff or touch it. Click, treat. Touch, click, treat. This was good for me, because it worked on my timing of the click, and my patience. It was good for Elka, because she was using her brain to try to figure out what I wanted, and got treats. Every time the criteria progressed (i.e. looking isn't good enough anymore, I want the touch), she would exagerratedly, in slow motion, look pointedly at the bucket, and then back at me, like "isn't this good enough? it worked before, what the hell". We got to the point where she would knock the bucket over, which is what I wanted, but the noise freaked her out, so click and treat jackpot was not enough, and we were back to square one each time.  I did mention patience, I think.

So, then I played around with other stuff. I want her to turn her head and put her paw across her nose when I say "Elka, are you sad?" I looked around on how other people taught this, got out the treats, got the clicker, got the dog, and got some tape. I put a piece of tape on her nose. Elka pawed at it. Click, treat. She went "WOO, treats!" and sat and stared at me intensely, with the tape still on her nose. No click. She laid down. No click. She sat and groaned at me. No click. I put another piece of tape next to the first one. Look down, paw. Click, treat. "WOO, treats!" Staring at me. Remember what I said about patience?  It turns out Elka is very patient about leaving things stuck to her nose if she feels that food will be forthcoming.  I love having a dog smart enough to figure me out, or take the trouble to think she has me figured out.  Honest!


  1. Why, HELLO THERE, open bag of treats!


  2. It's like those treats are just sitting there....waiting to be consumed. Begging for it, even!