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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dog Training Tips- Clicker Train using healthy dog treats

Now that Jasmine is getting more well-known nationally, I get a lot of email messages asking about how I train Jasmine to do all these tricks.

I will tell you it's a process, and it takes time.  I train Jasmine by positive reinforcement- using a method calling "Clicker Training".

You can google it to get all the details.  But the basics of it is... rewarding your dog for a job well done.

First, you have to find what the motivation is for your dog.  Is it Toys?  Treats?  Praise?    Some dogs are super motivated by a special tennis ball, some want their reward to be a game of tug-of-war.   Jasmine happens to be REALLY food motivated.  She could care less about a tennis ball or a rope toy. She wants treats, and she wants the good stuff!

(That's my other secret.  Use something special for training.  Something different that is a high-value treat.)  Rewarding with pieces of kibble from her dog dish just doesn't cut it.

It's important to use soft treats.  (preferably healthy dog treats) that you can toss to your dog.  (If your dog is treat motivated, make sure you use really small pieces.)    I use another method called "Jackpot"- which means I vary the # of treats I give Jaz as a reward.  And if she does the trick exactly like I wanted, I give her a jackpot of treats, and quit for the night.  My secret is... you always leave them wanting more.  And you always end on a good note.  (So they learn to enjoy trick training.)  If we're learning a new trick that's difficult, I'll end the training session with an easier one, so Jasmine ends the session with success.  

“With dogs, it’s all about finding their favorite currency. It may be a special treat or a special toy. Find what your dog’s favorite currency is and use that when training them new tricks.” - Zak George

Once you know what motivates your dog, there are 3 ways to train a trick:
There are 3 methods of trick-training.

1) Luring- using a treat to get your dog to follow where you lead.  (This is how I taught Jaz to "Say Your Prayers")  I lured her to put her paws up on the couch.  Then I clicked to reinforce that was the correct behavior I was looking for.  Once she got that down pretty well, I used food to lure her into ducking her head.  And then clicked to reinforce that behavior.   Over time, they learn to do it without the food lure.
2) Shaping- allows you to break complicated behaviors into smaller, easier ones.  This is how I taught Jaz to "Hide in the Suitcase".  First I put a treat in the suitcase with the lid open (so she would jump in and get it out.  (That was a lure)  Then I asked her to lie down in the suitcase.  Once she had that down pretty well, I put the treat in and closed the lid of the suitcase.  So she had to use her nose to flip it open to get to the treat.  Then she knew to jump in, and lie down.  (When I asked her to.)   (This is also called back-chaining.)  You start with the last behavior, and then teach the one before it... until they can do it all together.
3) Capturing- this is the hardest one, but you can get some great behaviors that you wouldn't ordinarily be able to teach.  People ask me, "How did you teach Jasmine how to sneeze?"   I didn't.  I "captured" her doing that behavior naturally.  This one takes time.  You have to click and treat every time your dog randomly does the behavior you're looking for.  (Like sneeze.)  At first, they just look at you, wondering why they got the treat.  But over time, they begin to connect the dots.  (I think it literally took us 6 months to get the "sneeze" trick on command.)  Jasmine just had to figure out what I was rewarding her for!

Once you know how to train a trick, then you work on the 3 D's of Trick Training.
1) Distance  (Building up the amount of space between you and the dog)
2) Distraction (asking for the behavior amid distractions of other dogs, sounds, smells, places, etc.)
3) Duration (building up how long the dog holds the trick)  -and remember it's ALWAYS important to have a release word.  (So your dog knows when it's over.)  

Like I mentioned, it's so very important to always keep it positive.  Tricks are just for fun.  And you learn together.  I focus on Jasmine's strengths and what she has to offer.  Sometimes I'll start training with a trick in mind, but Jasmine won't do it.  But she'll do something else instead.  Good enough for me!  I follow her lead, and add that trick to our resume!    

People ask me what's the hardest trick I've ever had to teach Jasmine.  And believe it or not, the answer is Fetch.  Jasmine generally doesn't like things in her mouth.  (Which is great- because she doesn't chew up my shoes.)  But it makes training difficult when so many tricks involve holding things in her mouth or pulling on things.  So for the first 5 years of Jasmine's life, she just mainly did tricks that involved her paws.  But every now and then, I'd ask her to hold something in her mouth, and gradually she learned that was okay!  (But it still can't be fuzzy or heavy- or she spits it out.)  So I just work with what Jasmine likes to do!

And she LOVES trick training.  She'll bug me at night, if she hasn't had any mental stimulation during the day.  She'll lead me over to the treat counter, and start sneezing.  (her new way to "beg")  Because sneezing always got her a treat!

My last secret is to keep training sessions short.  (Maybe 10-15 minutes a day, if that.)  And that's it.

People ask me if it's just Jasmine that's really smart, or if any dog can learn tricks.  The answer is - any dog, any breed, any age can learn tricks.  You just have to be willing to invest the time and patience with the dog.  And keep in mind, Jasmine and I have been practicing tricks for 6 years now.  So if you want a dog like Jasmine, you just have to be willing to invest the time, the love, and bring a few good treats.  ;)

Those are my best dog training tips.  So now when people email me, I'm just going to forward them this blogpost!!   

1 comment:

  1. Talk about info overload. Love the article! very informative. Makes me want to have my dogs enrolled in a dog training class as well.