I’m a dog training myth buster.
As I was explaining clicker training to a new client, she interrupted me to tell me that she’d been advised to avoid clicker training because it (1) didn’t work, (2) was unreliable, and (3) required the clicker and treats forever. These are common sentiments from folks who aren’t familiar with clicker training. I say let’s bust some dog training myths!
Let’s start with the first one: clicker training doesn’t work.
That’s like leaving the flour out of a cake recipe and then complaining that cakes taste awful. If you follow the recipe, you’ll be rewarded with a delicious dessert. Clicker training is exactly like a cake recipe – leave out some steps or ingredients and you’ll be disappointed with the results. Here are some common mistakes:
- Poor Timing. Clicker trainers click while the behavior is happening. Not before. Not after. During. You get what you click – if you click to early or too late, you won’t get more of the behavior you want.
- Using Punishment. Clicker training and punishment do not mix. Clicker training creates a thinking dog, a creative dog, a dog who likes to noodle things through, who likes to solve problems. Mix punishment into clicker training and you’ll lose that creative, thinking, problem-solving dog.
Check out clickertraining.com to read more about the in’s and out’s of clicker training.
The second dog training myth, that clicker training is unreliable, is an easy one to bust.
I volunteered with a service dog organization that raises and trains service dogs to help physically disabled people. Service dogs need to be reliable – lives depend on it. There is very little room for error for service dogs. The organization has been successfully using clicker training for 15+ years. Other service dog organizations are following suit, leaving traditional training behind in favor of more reliable clicker training.
Our last dog training myth, that clickers and food rewards must be used forever is an easy myth to bust.
Let’s revisit the service dogs. Many of the people who receive a service dogs are physically disabled and can’t hold a clicker or deliver treats. The dogs work willingly and reliably without the click or the treat. What gives? Clicker training is used to teach behavior, it isn’t necessary to use the clicker to maintain behavior.
I like to use “real life rewards” to keep my own dogs’ behavior strong. There are a number of things that happen during the course of a normal day that my dogs look forward to: going outside, playtime with me, coming inside, going for a car ride, sleeping on the furniture, meal times, cuddle time with me, going for walks…the list is endless. I use these things, things that my dogs love, as reinforcements for a job well done.