Thursday, June 11, 2009

Clicker training and Jackson

Several months ago I happened upon my old clicker and tried to do some clicker training with Jackson. At that time he acted like he did not like the sound and backed off from it rather that associate it with good things. So, I put it away - thinking it was not a tool I would be able to use with him. Well, I happened upon it again a week or so ago and thought I'd try it once more. This time there was no aversion to it at all and I proceeded to introduce him to it and get him to associate it with good treats. I've also dug out all my clicker training articles and links to online resources to review. I'm happy to say, I think we're on the road to doing some clicker training.

Previously, I was doing somewhat of a modified version of it using the word 'yes' instead of the clicker to mark the behavior I was trying to shape. I think the timing with the clicker is going to be better than my verbal marker - and more neutral. So, with that in mind I've picked out a behavior that I'm trying to shape - it is the 'look up' front with the glove or article in his mouth. Now, 'look up' fronts seem to come natural to a lot of obedience dogs - but not Jackson. I've had to really work to get these fronts on recalls and now he is consistently giving them to me. However, if he has a glove or article in his mouth he will not look up when he comes to front.

I think the 'look up' front is important for him to learn because it really helps him come in straighter and to sit straight. Below is a video clip of today's training. Now, keep in mind I am a real newbie at this so if anyone has any observations or suggestions that will help me with the clicker training aspect of it, please don't hesitate to let me know : ) Even though I've only been working on this behavior for a few days, I have seen improvement in his fronts when he has a glove in his mouth. Prevously, he would never look up at my face when he came to front, he would have his head down and tend to look to the side.

Now, if I can get this behavior shaped through clicker training, maybe I can figure out a way to reward him for briskness with the clicker : )


Honey the Great Dane said...

Hi Kathie,

Oh, I'm SO pleased that you're getting onto the clicker training at last!! Like you, I also started out training all the obedience things the 'traditional' way but then I found that with the clicker, it was amazing - the dog's whole attitude changed and he worked so much more accurately and so much more willingly!! It really is so powerful.

I think your timing is great for what you're doing! But if I may make a suggestion - what I think might help is if you change the whole way you approach training - I don't know if I can explain this well but the whole clicker concept is for the dog to work out for himself what he needs to do to get that click and once you have a dog who does this, it is like a lightbulb moment - you will get all that enthusiasm and speed and focus that you're talking about. In your case, although you're still using the clicker, you're sort of still also doing traditional training because you're telling Jackson what to do - giving him a command - and then rewarding him when he does it. All you’ve done is swap the sound of the clicker for “Good boy”. That is fine - and you can do that with a clicker. But if you really want to get that "EUREKA!" thing going, then it might be better if you could abandon all that and start again from scratch. This requires a bit more time and patience but is worth it!

(I hope you don’t mind a long comment but I thought if I write it here, others may find it useful too!)

The whole point of clicker is that you tell the dog nothing (initially) - you just use the CLICK to communicate and let him know what is "right" - this makes the dog really focused and keen to work to get the click & treat. At the moment, Jackson is still relying on you to tell him what to do - so there is no interest coming from him - I don't know how to explain this well but the difference between a clicker trained dog and a traditional one is that the former initiates things, is proactive about doing things to earn the click & reward - and you see this in their attitudes: they’re “switched on”, working you, trying things out - whereas the latter just waits to be told what to and with it can come reluctance to "follow the order" - so to speak, so you get that slow movement, looking to the side, distraction, lack of enthusiasm, etc - it's a totally different mindset. But if HE is deciding for himself what he must do, then he gets really keen coz it's like a guessing game and that is quite exciting. Oh dear, I hope I’m making sense! It’s a bit like those “Hot-Cold” games you played as a child, where you can’t direct them or point or tell them anything – all you can say is “Cold-Warm-Warmer-Hot-Hot-Boiling!...etc” and the person is left on their own to work things out. It is much more interactive & exciting for them than just being told what to do.


Honey the Great Dane said...

So in practical terms, what you should try is actually shaping Jackson into offering you the item, from scratch. Rather than giving it to him and telling him to take it in his mouth and telling him to come, etc - instead, just put the item on the ground and wait: as soon as he sniffs it (nose touches it), click and treat. Repeat a few times. If he understands the meaning of the CLICK properly, he will catch on very quickly and you will almost see him pause, purposely nose the item and then look at you, expecting the click & treat. This is him starting to think "AHA! This is what I have to do to get the click". Once he is nosing the item enthusiastically, start withholding the click – see what he will do next. He might just nose it a lot more enthusiastically and you can keep clicking for that. But he may start to pick it up of his own accord. Immediately click as soon as his mouth makes contact with the item. Don’t wait until he actually picks it up and holds it – at this stage, you want to encourage and reward any proactive behaviour towards the item. He will drop the item after you click to take the reward – that’s fine – just wait and he may pick up the item again.(if he doesn’t you can help a bit by touching it with your foot or indicating with your hand) What you’re aiming for here isn’t how well he picks it up but his VOLUNTARY interest in picking it up.

If he is diving for it enthusiastically every time, wait a few seconds now after he picks it up to give him the click. He’ll probably stand there, with his teeth clenched on the item, watching you, waiting for the click. Don’t make him wait too long initially – he picks it up, count 2s, then CLICK. Next time, he picks it up, count 4s, then CLICK, etc. Gradually work up so that he is holding the item for several seconds before you click. You’ll find that he will be focused and watching you avidly without you needing to ask for it – it’s a natural side-effect shaping and clicker training. Once he is doing that well and enthusiastically and reliably each time, you can start to take take the item out of his mouth before you click. So now you’re teaching him that he has to hold it until you take it, before he gets his click & reward. This will stop him spitting it out immediately – he will learn that he has to hold it until you take it.


Honey the Great Dane said...

When he is doing all that well, now start taking a couple of steps backward before you take the item from him and click. You can make encouraging noises or even say “Come” at this stage – he should walk towards you eagerly, with the item in his mouth. As soon as he reaches you, take the item, click & treat. Don’t ask for a Sit yet. Repeat several times. If he drops the item as he’s coming towards you, just motion him towards it again and wait for him to pick it up again. If he is dropping it a lot, you’ve raised the bar too quickly or are walking too many steps away.

Once he is bringing it to you happily and waiting for you to take it, you can start to try and get him to Sit. Just wait a second when he reaches you, don’t take the item and see if he will sit. At this stage, you can say “Sit” quietly to help him along. But be ready as his bum touches the ground, take the item from him and CLICK! I found it helps at this stage if you walk into the dog slightly – this forces his centre of gravity back and encourages him to sit. Then you can gradually extend the time he has to sit before you will take the item from him. You will find that he will sit and look up at you avidly, waiting for you to take the item from him and click & reward – this becomes a smooth follow-on from all the other behaviours flowing in a chain. But all along, his attention will be on you because he is waiting eagerly for that click. Once he is doing all these actions reliably, you can start to add in the cue words – eg, just before he goes to pick it up, say “Take it” and he will associate the word with the action. But initially, we don’t tell them what to do – we let them work it out for themselves. Finally, you can place the item at a distance, point him towards it to go and pick it up, then bring it to you, sit and let you take it – he has to do all that before he gets the click & reward.

Don’t rush things – you won’t accomplish all this in one session. In fact, if you have the time & patience, it may be worth just doing 1 step per day…building a new next step each day. Clicker training works better when the dog has had time to let things sink in. You may find that at the next session, he is eagerly performing the behaviour from the last as soon as he sees the clicker!
(Oh, in Step 1, if he shows no interest in sniffing the item on the ground, you can place a treat underneath it to encourage him to sniff it).

This is how I trained Honey to retrieve and present her dumbbell and how I got that enthusiasm and speed that you were admiring in our video.

Sorry this is so long but it’s hard to explain training things properly without going into detail! Hope you find this useful.

Hsin-Yi (& Honey the Great Dane)

Kathie R said...

Hsin-Yi, Wow, what a great explanation and step-by-step instructions on shaping the glove exercise with clicker training! Your explanation was very clear and understandable. I knew that what I was doing with Jackson was not 'pure' clicker training. I guess I was trying to shortcut the process by isolating that one behavior - looking up - and clicking and rewarding when he offered that behavior.

You are so right about the attitude thing. I'm just not getting the enthusiasm with training the obedience exercises as I get when working on the tricks. Teaching the tricks actually was a lot more like clicker training where I was just rewarding the behaviors that he offered me on his own. And, he was much more enthused doing that than the obedience exercises where I direct what he does.

Okay, so now I'm excited to start from scratch and try the true clicker training method as you described. I'll let you know how it goes!


Kathie R

Honey the Great Dane said...

I think you want to get to the point where the dog considers ANYTHING you ask him a fun trick! So maybe you can try to view it that way yoursel too - take the seriousness out of the Obedience stuff and view all the exercises as "tricks" that can be learnt by shaping. There should be no difference to him whether he is heeling, retrieving an item or giving you a "high five" - (dogs don't think "Ah, Heeling - yes, that's the serious obedience stuff" - walking next to you is no different to giving you their paw in their eyes but it becomes different, I think, because our attitudes are different when we teach it. But to him, they should all be 'fun' behaviours that he can perform which will get him rewards! :-)


The PR Gang said...

Great feedback Hsin-Yi! I think you explained it well. Good luck Kathy and Jackson.