Kathy Sdao is a truly inspirational speaker, I heard her for the first time at her Developing Cueing Skills session. Cueing is the beauty of clicker training, we can use cues as reinforcers. For me this session was a great reminder on how metaphors help humans to conceptualize training. For example, what are cues? They are green lights that enable an animal to earn a reinforcer. What if the animal doesn’t respond to the cue? There can be various explanations. Think of being at traffic lights driving a standard but you have only driven an automatic before, the light changes to green, but you just cannot move forward because you make a mess out of dealing with the clutch, in other words, you don’t know how to do the behavior. Solution: if the cue doesn’t work, you need to clean up the behavior. OK, you learn how to drive a standard and you’re getting pretty good at it. Then you decide to go to San Francisco and end up in red lights at a very steep uphill. The light changes to green, you know the cue, but the the hill is way too steep for you to get the car going forward. Clearly, the new circumstances were too difficult for you to do the behavior, you need to practice those hill starts somewhere easier first. So very often we overlook the fact that something in the environment may be too much for the dog to be able to do the behavior we are asking for.
Speaking of metaphors, I am going to add a few from the amazing and my all time favourite Finnish trainer, Tommy Wirén here:
If you get yourself a border collie and the only activity the dog gets are the mandatory 5 minute potty breaks 3 times a day, the effect is the same as putting a Formula 1 driver in a racing car onto the highway during the rush hour. Something is going to explode probably sooner than later.
When you take a cab, have you ever tried getting where you want to go by slapping the back of the driver’s head every time he makes a wrong turn? Of course not, you always tell him where you want to go instead. Why would you then use the slapping technique for training your dog?
If your dog does something unwanted, like eats your sandwich from the table where you left it and you start punishing the dog after you come back, the effect is the same as yelling at a train that already left the station. It is just too late.
And here is one from my personal experience. A leash reactive dog in the city with loads of other dogs is like me taking the subway between 8-9 am on a Monday morning. It is too stressful to handle. I am thinking of the dog, the owner may feel the same way!