Beginning Clicker Training

In loving memory of Koda. 18/01/2005 to 16/10/2015.

This is part of an original article that I wrote for my website back in 2005. It makes me smile as the article contained comments such as “digital cameras all have this time lag between pressing the button and taking the picture”! The world has been turning and technology has advanced dramatically in the intervening years – my phone has a much better camera than I was using at this time! However the article remains valid, nothing has changed in the way in which I approach training this exercise with puppies and the pictures are treasured memories of my much loved and still missed dog, Koda.

Like many of my animals, Koda came with problems. His jaw was so far out of alignment that his puppy canines were cutting holes in his soft pallet. He went on to have 8 operations on his jaw before he was a year old, the series of pictures shown here take place shortly after the first of those, which removed his lower canine teeth and repaired the damage to his soft pallet. This is the original article:-

I don’t generally do much real shaping with young puppies as there’s so much else to teach them. But Koda had had surgery and was left with stitches in his gums, so we weren’t allowed to play. He wasn’t allowed to chew anything hard; I had to be careful that his stitches didn’t get tangled up with fibres from fleece type toys. He also desperately needed occupation and so we started shaping.

I thought it might be fun to get some photos of Koda doing the beginning stages of perch work. I use perches to teach dogs how to use their rears. Once the dog understands the concept of standing still with his front paws on something, it’s fairly easy to teach them to move around to either side using their back legs only as their front paws remain in place on the perch. You can then introduce items for them to step over with their rear paws, which really makes them aware of those back legs and paws, whilst also honing their balance.

There were two aims for this shaping session. 1) To continue Koda’s education in offering behaviour. 2) I also wanted to expand his horizons a little because up until now he’d been rewarded for static positions in front of me, offering interaction with an object away from me was new. The objective of the shaping was to have him standing with his two front paws on a box with no luring or holding in position.

So, begin by shaping a paw on. This is done in tiny pieces, reward any glance in the right direction, be careful to reward whilst the puppy is facing away. Next reward a step in the right direction, again being careful to reward in the direction that you want the dog to go. Soon the puppy is at the box, now reward any slight movement of paws and soon you have:-

Reward off to one side. This means that Koda will have to leave the box to take his reward and then approach the box again for the next reward. This gives him an opportunity to really explore what’s being rewarded:-

Koda started playing with the parameters for reward almost immediately here he’s pawing and nose touching:-

Here he pounced but missed……..this one didn’t get rewarded as the criterion is paw ON, not paw by the side!

Here he’s touching nicely again:-

Next he decided that PLAY was more fun!

But soon got back to working again:-

We had a little chewing:-

But overall he had the idea.

The next stage was to reward in place to stick Koda to the box:-

It didn’t really matter if Koda moved after he’d been rewarded, but it was very important to reward him whilst he still had a paw on the box. To do this it really is essential to have the mechanics of clicking and rewarding down pat as you have to move fast. I practised without Koda in the picture where I was going to be, which hand the clicker was in and how to present the rewards. The next thing to ensure is that the hand presenting the reward doesn’t move until after the click has sounded, the clicker can in that case become meaningless as the hand movement will predict the reward. If Koda got off after his treat, that was fine, as he had to get back on for his next one. Eventually response cost will tell him there’s not much point moving, when all the rewards arrive whilst your foot is on the box. There were several approaches until finally he stayed put:-

Next on the agenda was to raise my criterion to include the second paw and this is where the dog’s control of his body comes in – which Koda hasn’t got. He’s growing SO fast! This took several attempts for him to succeed at and is the main reason why I like to fully shape any activities to do with control of the dog’s body. There’s no pressure, no luring or prompting or urging. The dog is simply rewarded for what he’s capable of offering at the time. If he were really unable to maintain his balance, I’d stop and make a note of where to start next time.

It took him a while to work out how to keep both his front paws on the box:-

Now remembering that Koda was only 13 weeks old when these pictures were taken, this was MORE than enough. Here is where the session should have finished, but I wanted the photos so I pushed my luck.

This was the first time he sat down:-

Now he’s really bushed!

Now we’re tired and bored and don’t want treats anymore.

This is VERY clear Beardie communication! Poor baby!

So I sweet talked him a little:-

I also dropped criterion immediately:-

And soon we had:-

And finally:-

Very soon after:-

And then he slept like an angel!

And that’s how Koda learnt to stand with two front paws on a box!

Koda went on to become a faithful friend although his agility career was a short one. His shoulders were much to straight to allow him to reach across a pole; he understood clearly that he shouldn’t knock poles which made the sport highly frustrating for him. I carried on training him at home and we took up bikejoring together, we spent hours exploring the local commons. Koda was always available for students to play with, we simply lowered the jumps for him. He died unexpectedly from cancer, far too young and I miss him still.

Jo Sermon
KISS Agility Training.

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