EXPERIENCES FROM CLICKER EXPO PART 4: NO MORE SLOPPY TRAINING, BE EFFICIENT, LOOP IT UP AND PROOF THE BEHAVIORS! (from old blog 25/03/11)

A number of presenters at the Expo approached the concept of fluent training from slightly different angles. No matter what we do, if you think a little more about it, everything always boils down to the same principles that we heard on our very first clicker training course: Criteria-Timing-Rate of Reinforcement and Think-Plan-Do. The basic principles come up again and again, and every single time we learn (or at least I do!) something new from them because of the new flavors provided by different trainers and the situation where you happen to be in your own training.

Cecilie Køste is an accomplished Norwegian trainer from Canis, a Scandinavian organization providing publications, courses and seminars on dog training (a side note: Mindful Behaviors, as in me, writes articles for Canis in Finland). I attended Cecilie’s Efficient Training seminar and lab session, my colleague Andre from When Hounds Fly summarized them very comprehensively in his blog. The sessions really drilled in the fact how important the ‘Click for Action, Treat for Position’ rule is in training. Deliver the reward where you want the dog to be because the dog keeps learning also after the click and the direction of the reward makes a huge difference.

Efficient Training also emphasized training focus: there should be no dead time in a training session. This very nicely ties into the principles of Loopy Training that Alexandra Kurland talked about (see the first blog from the Expo). We often think of clicker training as being a linear sequence of Behavior-Click-Reinforcement repeated again and again. Instead of thinking linearly, a good trainer should see the training session as repeated loops: Behavior-Click-Treat-Behavior-Click-Treat- and so on.

For fluent clicker training the loops need to be clean. Interestingly, in a training loop the weakest link most often is the food delivery! Now when I’m thinking about it, how many times have I tossed the treat somewhere where the dog cannot immediately find it or I’m using treats that crumble up leaving a mess that the dog spends precious ten seconds or so vacuuming. When this happens the training loop is broken and the session just is not fluent anymore.

For fluent clicker training the loops need to be clean. Interestingly, in a training loop the weakest link most often is the food delivery! Now when I’m thinking about it, how many times have I tossed the treat somewhere where the dog cannot immediately find it or I’m using treats that crumble up leaving a mess that the dog spends precious ten seconds or so vacuuming. When this happens the training loop is broken and the session just is not fluent anymore.

Kay Laurence from UK had a session on Microshaping at the Expo that I didn’t have a chance to attend but she has a very nice technique for teaching targeting to a mat. The mat is imagined to be in the middle of a clock, the trainer is at 6 o’clock, and after clicking the dog for being on the mat, the trainer tosses the treat either to 9, 12, or 3 o’clock from the mat. The purpose of this exercise is to proof or generalize the behavior while still maintaining a clean loop. As I had been training the mat behavior to Forbes (Oracle Aussies) at home and videotaping it, after the Expo I decided to accommodate this clockwork into my mat training.

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