Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Clicker

With our first nice day in what seems like years I spent the evening out messing with the dogs.  I've been feeling rather guilty because the sheep are too pregnant to work so the dogs have not been getting very much quality training time.  Carefully preparing my treat bag (cut up bits of hot dog, broken bits of homemade dog cookies and dried liver bits), I gathered up my "obedience" training equipment and headed out.  

Gunner had been a bad boy for my mother earlier in the day so I decided he would be the first dog (that way if he needed more time, he could have it).  Putting him on my 6 foot cord I thought I'd try clicker training with him.  He's rather dysfunctional so I figured the less interaction I had with him the better our session would go.  I stood on the cord so he couldn't run away but otherwise didn't say anything to him.  

When starting a dog with the clicker you have what's called a target.  The point being every time the dog noses the target you click and treat.  This lets them learn the click equates treat for the behavior.  I placed the target on the ground (a white plastic lid) and immediately Gunner rushed in to check it out.  I forgot to tell you this dog has clearly missed some meals and is very food motivated.  I click, before I can get the treat down to his head he's bolted to the end of the cord, tail tucked between his legs and is cowering.  May I say this is not the expected or usual reaction.  Oooo-kay.

Plan B.  The clicker went back into the house because it was clearly not going to be an effective training tool for this dog and I replaced showing him he did the correct behavior with the classic "Good Boy!!!" and treat.  Having him recognize his name and recall to it is priority number one.  The advantage with the longer cords is it gives the dog enough freedom to move around but let's you remain in control of the situation.

As we were walking around the yard I would stop, call his name, and if he didn't respond apply some negative feedback (a snap of the cord), and positive feedback when he arrived at my legs ("good boy!!!" and treat).  A huge issue with this dog is his refusal to respond to the human when around the stock so I also took him into the corral with the sheep and practiced recall there.  Next, we moved on to his kennel (dog run).  

He has the most annoying habit of trying to bolt out of the run the moment you open the gate.  This is not okay with me.  So I opened his door, gave him his command "Kennel" and rewarded him with a treat when he went in.  Next I'd give him the lie down command, reward him, and open the gate.  When he rushed out I'd give the recall "Gunner" and treat him when he came.  My eventual goal is to have him lie down and remain lie down when the gate is open until I release him.  Obviously he's not quite there yet.  

With Reba we worked on staying in lie down.  She's very good at coming to her name (recall) and she's pretty good at going into lie down but she doesn't want to stay in lie down - especially when she's not on the sheep (she actually listens better when I'm working her).  So that's what we worked on.  I'd lie her down and treat her.  When she'd sit up I'd correct her behavior by using the cord to place her back into lie down.  When she stayed in lie down I'd give her more treats and pets.  I'd release her with an "okay", let her run around before repeating the process.  

With the new and improved weather that's hopefully here to stay I should be able to get some quality training time in with the dogs.  (And horse - more on him later.)


Angela said...

Why did you give up so quickly with the clicker. I would suggest that perhaps you didn't spend enough time charging the clicker, with certain fearful/reactive dogs it is best to take a week to just slowly charge the clicker and pair with primary reinforcer. If he isn't comfortable with you handing the treat to him directly then simply throw it from a distance on the floor near to where he is. You can then slowly increase proximity and have him get closer to you by throwing the treat a little closer to you so that he has to walk in your direction, but still not approach you. But go slow, work at his pace, and observe his body language. It is quite possible to clicker train fearful or reactive dogs, you just need to take more time to charge the clicker, the typical 10 minutes just won't work :)

Country Girl said...

He's a rescue dog with an uncertain past with major trust issues. We won't use a clicker out on the sheep anyhow so it would only be for some basic obedience skills. And because I'm trying to get some skills into him as quickly as he'll allow - so we have some control on the stock - I'll do what works best. And for him it seems the voice is it. My mom wonders if he's had a shock collar on him in the past. I don't see the point in stressing him out when it's not necessary. (He's stressed when I have anyone other than myself handle him.) Hope that answers your question. :)