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Old 06-10-2010, 06:37 PM
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Kayla Kayla is offline
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Default Updated Version of Clicker Training 101

I wrote the original "Clicker Training 101" thread quite some time ago. Reviewing it now, a year or so later I feel as though there is more I'd like to add, so below you will find my updated version of clicker training 101. As with the original thread, please feel free to use it as a central place to discuss anything clicker related.

p.s i've really missed Chaz

Pre-Notes: Why I switched to clicker training from aversive based training...and why I'm not switching back

When I brought home my first dog, Duke, four years ago the first trainers I went to for advice and basic obedience all had my using aversives in some form or another. While Duke grew into an "obedient dog" his fear based aggression, which he had begun exhibiting at an early age, had made little improvement. I decided to try to find more information about force-free training after reading "Don't Shoot The Dog" by Karen Pryor. Three years later, after finding new trainers to work with, and having expanded my own knowledge base by attending the Karen Pryor Academy and Clicker Expo conferences I now view the behaviors he presents on a day to day basis and our relationship, much differently then the days I was trying to dominate him.

In my personal experience with traditional and balanced training, it felt as though I was constantly looking for a mistake to catch before it occurred to ensure my correction was properly timed. Over time stress avoidance behaviors began to pop up during training sessions such as sniffing, scratching, lip licking and looking away making pre-obedience trail training difficult. The bottom line is, when training with aversives, whether to diminish behavior, teach behavior or correct mistakes, you are in a constant battle with your dog, because your core training is based around the mentality of: Do it, or I'll make you. Don't do that, or I'll correct you.

In stark contrast, with clicker training your dog wants to learn, you are the most interesting thing at that moment so there is never a power struggle going on. Overtime with progressive training and layering in distractions your dog learns he or she will always win by offering behavior you want in a wide variety of contexts. In the actual realm of learning, force-free marker based training takes your dog from a passive observer to an active participant and it really shows. Dog's are willing participants and love to offer behavior. When it doesn't work your dog learns to slow down and try something else, and in essence is learning how to think through situations. Lastly it creates a dog who’s not afraid of trying things, and this is the biggest difference I saw in Duke's overall attitude years after giving up aversives in my training. The worst thing that happens when he is wrong is he doesn’t get a click- oh well try again, traditional trained dogs often go into a behavior void when first learning via shaping (discussed below) because until this point, trying things has never gotten them far.

On a last note Duke is now just shy of four years old. In the last three years he has come from reacting to almost any dog or male within a 30 foot radius to confidently offering a look at the dog behavior as we pass dogs on walks, even face to face. The other week a tethered dog charged us from it's lawn and came to a halt a foot away from Duke, hackles raised and barking at us. Duke looked at the dog and immediately looked at me while wagging his tail, and farfetched sounding or not, these are the real life difference I have seen with my dog.



Everything below is just my 0.02.

The Basics of Clicker Training

Marker based training works by first pairing the marker sound (be it a bell, whistle or click) with some type of reinforcement desired by the student. Once the marker has been established over several repetitions of this pairing the marker can the be used to mark behaviors the student performs that a trainer whishes to reinforce. Depending on a trainer's personal preferences markers can be used to mark behaviors that we wish to reinforce positively, or to mark behaviors we are about to apply aversives too, in hopes of diminishing it.

Ian Pavlov was the first to discover a novel sound or smell could be closely paired with food. His famous ringing a bell followed by delivering food was the corner stone of the field of science we know as classical conditioning. Ian discovered that after a short time of pairing the bell with food, the bell itself soon caused the dogs to drool- in essence the bell had become a predictor of food. The clicker works on the same principle. Alone it is a novel sound- BUT when paired closely with something your dog desires it becomes a powerful event marker, and in training can be used to communicate to your dog EXACATLY what he did correctly to earn a reinforcer. Furthermore it acts as a bridge between the time he performs the behavior and receives the reward.

Review:

The clicker is NOT magical; it works because of classical conditioning, the process of pairing something novel with something the dog wants. Overtime this makes the novel item/ sound/ smell/ sight a predictor of good things to come.

The clicker acts as an event marker, telling your dog exactly what he did right

The clicker acts as a bridge between the time the behavior is performed to the delivery of the treat.

Guidelines to using the clicker effectively

For new pet owners and dogs new to clicker training it is recommended to reinforce after every click. You certainly do not need to click every desirable response your dog offers but it is very easy to discourage dogs new to learning through experimentation ( in hopes of earning a click and reward) by not following through with a reward after your dog has earned a click.

During the early stages of training with a clicker it is recommended to keep food out of sight to prevent dogs from becoming overly focused on the presence of food.

Nuts and Bolts of the Clicker Training Process

Below is a simple three step process to using a marker effectively in your training.

1) Observe the behavior- Clicker training requires a keen eye, the two types of methods to build behavior in clicker training are capturing (waiting for the behavior to occur on it’s own and then clicking it) and shaping (building the behavior gradually step-by-step)

2) Mark the behavior- Think of clicking as taking a picture of the behavior. Your eye sight is the LCD display screen and you want to take a picture of the behavior in progress. Near the end is fine, but it is always better to click early then late.

3) Reward the behavior- The only guideline for this is make sure you keep the reward out of sight initially as the dog is still learning about the clicker and at this point will focus more on the reward. Second make sure you find something your dog enjoys- not something you think he enjoys. There is a big difference. Try out 6-7 different food items and observe if they are gobbled up instantly, sniffed and then eaten or passed by and rate them from 1-5 in terms of interest level. Do the same with 5 different toys (a tug toy, chase a Frisbee, chase a ball, etc)

An example : Teaching your dog to sit using capturing

Note: Tethering when using capturing is a good idea as it limits your dogs options as to what behaviors he may perform.

Step 1: Watch your dog for "clickable behavior"

The instant your dog begins to crouch and looks like he/she may sit get ready to click.

Step 2: Mark the behavior you wish to reinforce

As your dog begins to sit, click.

Step 3: Reinforce the behavior you wish to see repeated

If you are using a food reward, deliver it to your dog. If you are using play with a toy, unclip your dog from the tether and have a 30-45 second play session.


The Basics of Shaping Behavior

While there are many excellent books written on the in-depth process known as shaping, below is a simple outline of how the process works.

Shaping involves teaching a behavior without any force, food lures or cheerleading on your part. In essence the dog must learn to offer behavior and is similar to playing the hot/cold game for humans.

You start by defining what your end behavior will look like and then brainstorm how you can break it down into small easily accomplishable pieces.

Many dogs new to shaping may benefit from shaping on a novel prop item, such as a ball, a platform, a chair, etc.

In the beginning you will mark and reward your dog rapidly for offering any behavior towards the prop. This could be as simple as glancing at it.

As your dog begins to catch on your begin to raise your criteria, always keeping your rate of reinforcement (how often you mark and reward) high and keep sessions very short, this is especially important with brand new dogs to shaping. Over time as a dog becomes more savvy you can begin to introduce longer sessions, but a good guideline in the beginning is keep sessions to 30-40 seconds. You can have multiple sessions in one training session.

*continued below*
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Old 06-10-2010, 06:38 PM
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Common Questions

What benefits does marker based training offer vs. lure based training vs. balanced training vs. correction based training?

Lure training (using food to manipulate your dog's body) is complimented by the use of a marker as it helps speed up your dog's understanding of exactly what you want your dog to do. In lure training your dog is not responsible for it's own behavior, instead he or she simply needs to follow the treat. A downside of lure training by itself is that sometimes it can take multiple repetitions over multiple training sessions for the dog to catch on to what we are trying to teach. On the flip side training with a marker in combination with lure training helps pinpoint the exact moment in time your dog performed the behavior that earned him/her a reward. Once your dog becomes clicker savvy, this will greatly reduce the number of trials it takes to teach future behaviors with a lure.

Balanced Training (training with positive reinforcement in combination with corrections to suppress undesired behavior) will also benefit from the addition of a marker signal on both ends of the spectrum. By incorporating a positive marker signal, you stand to help your dog pick up on what you want significantly faster then by luring/ physical manipulation alone. Regardless of which method you are currently using, by making use of a marker signal you will see a time reduction in how many repetitions you spend on teaching one behavior.

Here are two examples of how a positive marker signal, ideally followed up with a positive reinforcer can be blended in to teaching a dog to lie down using balanced training methods:

Example 1: Your dog already knows how to sit, and you are using pressure on the leash to teach your dog to lie down.

The second your dog removes the pressure by lying down mark, by clicking and immediately follow up with a reward.

Example 2: Your dog already knows how to sit, and you are using a food lure to get your dog down into position. As your dog lies down mark, by clicking and immediately follow up with a reward.

Correction training/ Traditional Training

Marker based training can also be applied in the form of a negative marker to mark the moment in time your dog has performed a behavior you are about to punish by either applying something your dog finds aversive/ unpleasant or by removing something aversive/ unpleasant.

The use of a negative marker signal, helps communicate to your dog which behavior is being punished and can help reduce the "umbrella effect" that can commonly occur with punishment based training where several behaviors get suppressed at once.

Here's an example where no negative marker is being used: Your dog commonly jumps on visitors who enter your home. You've been advised by your training to practice setting your dog up and then correcting the behavior with a leash pop every time he or she jumps up.

When he/she jumps up you give a leash correction. After 3-4 trials your dog no longer jumps up, however he/she will also no longer look at visitors or go into the hallway where you were practicing.

This is a common effect of punishment where it blankets several things at once and as a result your dog stops offering every behavior that occurred at the time of punishment and may even start avoiding area's where you were practicing set ups.

By using a marker signal you can mark the moment in time the undesired behavior occurred before applying an aversive.

Side Note Recent studies at the University of Texas under the direction of Jesus Rosalez Ruiz has found strong evidence of the damage punishment training causes in the strength of behaviors trained by it, whether it be in the beginning, middle or end stages. I personally do not recommend using aversive in training, but thought it was worth mentioning that some trainers do use markers in this context.

If I use a clicker at some point in my training process will I be stuck using it forever?

No, the clicker in modern, force-free training is generally used until the behavior has been developed and a cue has been added. At this point most trainers drop the marker and simply follow up with their own preference of reinforcement on whatever schedule they find effective for them and their student.

How do most people juggle a clicker while out on walks?

While a clicker is certainly an effective tool for leash training, it can become very unpractical for owners who walk multiple dogs at one time. Instead many people prefer to condition a word, saved only for training to use instead.

In traditional training the word is usually added as you begin to lure a behavior, in the cases of shaping and capturing when is the word added?

Unlike in traditional training where we add the cue BEFORE the dog can perform the behavior well, in clicker training we wait until AFTER the dog is offering the finished behavior to add the cue. To add the cue simply say it as the dog is offering the behavior, click and treat. Slowly move the cue back earlier and earlier. After this you can teach your dog that only cued responses get clicked and treated and un cued responses will go un clicked.

There are numerous good video links of clicker training videos on the youtube, if any wants to respond and post your favorites to create an achieve go ahead.

One last final note: Bob Bailey, a well respected animal trainer once said, "Pavlov is always on your shoulder". What he meant was that regardless of what training method you use, classical conditioning (the process of forming associations, negative or positive) is always happening.

When you teach your dog to stop jumping on people by using a leash pop, you will probably get results within just a few sessions, based on your dog, the strength of your corrections and your timing. However, at the same time your dog is starting to learn that jumping on people is a negative experience, and often times over repetition also develop this association towards people in general.

The same thing often happens with dogs on chokes, or pinch collars who are corrected for pulling towards other dogs. While these tools can be very effective at curbing this undesirable behavior, there is always a negative association and negative reinforcement history beginning to build in regards to other dogs.

Whether or not the association ever shows, is a matter of individual and circumstances but like it or not, classical conditioning is always happening.

Duke now at four has begun enticing new dogs to play with socially appropriate body language something he has only ever done with his one dog friend he's known since 8 weeks. While it is purely my own speculation I wouldn't be surprised if a large chunk of this has developed over the last three years from receiving heavy positive reinforcement every time he saw a dog at a distance.

I hope you enjoyed

(Duke with his first dog friend learning how to play)


Kayla and Duke
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Old 06-10-2010, 09:29 PM
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Really good thread, Kayla! Reallyyyy.

I especially love reading about your experience with aversive training... that's exactly how I felt. I didn't want to mentally battle with my dog anymore. It's exhausting! Why even have a dog if you are constantly worrying them and yourself?

I have 2 friends who are totally into that, totally into the idea of dominating and it's like they have tunnel vision. I want so badly to tell them everything you put into this thread and urge them to use clicker training with their new, fear aggressive rescue; but it's so hard to put into words without alienating them. I have to work up the courage to send them this thread.
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Old 06-11-2010, 12:23 AM
wagthedog wagthedog is offline
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Hi Kayla,
I am new to the forum and really appreciated your sticky...I attended the cappdt conference last weekend and Karen Pryor presented on Sunday, which was amazing! I am a trainer and have had some experience with clicker training, but am now entirely convinced that this is without a doubt the way to go. I am considering attending the course her academy is offering (will be available in my area in the fall), expensive but I think it will ultimately be worth it...can't wait! Thanks again for this post.
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Old 06-11-2010, 04:10 PM
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Originally Posted by ihartgonzo View Post
Really good thread, Kayla! Reallyyyy.

I especially love reading about your experience with aversive training... that's exactly how I felt. I didn't want to mentally battle with my dog anymore. It's exhausting! Why even have a dog if you are constantly worrying them and yourself?

I have 2 friends who are totally into that, totally into the idea of dominating and it's like they have tunnel vision. I want so badly to tell them everything you put into this thread and urge them to use clicker training with their new, fear aggressive rescue; but it's so hard to put into words without alienating them. I have to work up the courage to send them this thread.
Feel free to pass it along. I understand where you are coming from, at the end of the day passing along info is really all we can do and from there we just need to allow people to make their own choices. Once someone is interested then doing a quick demonstration of shaping is usually a pretty interesting experince for an individual who has never witnessed a shaping session before with a clicker savvy dog. If you do pass it on, I realize that there are some mix-ups with grammar which is my fault because I start typing, get excited, rush through and forget to edit so that's something I'm going to need to start being more vigilant about. Unfortunantly I don't see an edit button anymore now that I've posted it, so I'm not sure if it's fixable at this point.

For the last year and a bit I've been working with a diverse group of trainers with a variety of different methods and methadologies all across the operant conditioning spectrum at a service dog organization. The biggest thing I've learned is that conversations that might have developed into interesting discussions usually break down when people get too hung up on the the, "my way is better" mentality. No matter how right you think you are, this mentality serves no useful purpose when trying to discuss a method different then the one an individual is already using.

I remember at this year's clicker expo in Kentucky, I attended a great lecture by Karen Pryor who was talking about Cesar Millan. Immediately a large amount of the crowd started booing. Once they finished, Karen mentioned that she and a collegue had gone to a Cesar Milan lecture/ seminar recently, to educate themselfes about his methodology. Later in the lecture she pointed out that, "clicker trainers" are just as guilty of acting like "witch hunters" then any other training clique out there, and that ultimately if we keep the mentality of our way is better then we miss out on an opportunity to create understanding and respect on both sides, which, she presented was the best way to allow for mutual learning.

All of the people I work with at the service dog organization love dogs, whether they use mostly correction based training, or mostly force-free based training, I do not know one single person who is not in it because they enjoy working with dogs, and enjoy the job on a whole. All take great care of their own pet dogs, and these are the things I focus on to avoid labelling people, and applying the connotations of that label to a person.

I understand why many, many dog training conversations go south quickly, and why jokes about dog trainers being able to get along exsist and in many scenerio's it's true. However, if you can work on taking out the personal factor when discussing training methods with friends, family, co-workers, etc and just discuss the methods for what they are at face value you will find not only will your own perception of "the other side" will likely change but you will find people will be much more receptive to you.

Again this is just based on my limited experince working as a dog trainer.

Kayla and Duke
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Old 10-23-2010, 02:31 PM
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Really well written article, Kayla. You do a good job outlining all of the important basics in a straight forward, easy to understand manner.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kayla View Post
How do most people juggle a clicker while out on walks?

..... Instead many people prefer to condition a word, saved only for training to use instead.
I would add to this that with practice, many people can become pretty proficient at making a "click" sound with their mouth. Not a cluck sound, but an actual, pretty sharp click sound.

This is what many horse people do, it's too hard sometimes to manage a lead rope, a target stick, a handful of treats, plus try to hold onto a clicker.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Kayla View Post
I remember at this year's clicker expo in Kentucky,
ClickerExpo is excellent. Last year (KY) was my first time going. Hoping to have the time/money to go to the upcoming one in Illinois.

I just (this morning) wrote an article on my blog about tips for becoming a better clicker trainer. Anyone interested in clicker training might find it useful!
10 clicker training tips to improve your training | Stale Cheerios
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Old 05-05-2011, 05:32 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kayla View Post
Feel free to pass it along. I understand where you are coming from, at the end of the day passing along info is really all we can do and from there we just need to allow people to make their own choices. Once someone is interested then doing a quick demonstration of shaping is usually a pretty interesting experience for an individual who has never witnessed a shaping session before with a clicker savvy dog. If you do pass it on, I realize that there are some mix-ups with grammar which is my fault because I start typing, get excited, rush through and forget to edit so that's something I'm going to need to start being more vigilant about. Unfortunately I don't see an edit button anymore now that I've posted it, so I'm not sure if it's fixable at this point.

Kayla and Duke
Hi Kayla,

Will surely pass this along Kayla. This kind of info is worth to relay...

Best,

Shiela
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Old 06-11-2010, 03:16 PM
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Hi, Kayla. I have very much enjoyed all of your clicker training posts. What a difference this has made in my training approach!
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Old 06-11-2010, 03:48 PM
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Nice job Kayla! Well done!
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Old 11-17-2010, 03:22 AM
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This is just a wonderful thread. With great points and really helpful information! Like you, I am also an advocate of clicker training. I have found it to be highly effective and easy to use. All my dogs have reacted positively to it

Great thread! Keep it up!!!
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