|By Becky Turner||Discuss This Article at our Sheltie Forums|
The i-Click for dog clicker training
Clicker training is a gentle, conditional training method that uses only positive reinforcement to teach your dog new behaviors. All you need to get started is a clicker - a small plastic item that makes a good loud clicking noise for your dog - and an understanding about what makes this simple dog training method work so well.
I began using the clicker method very tentatively on Howard and Piper earlier this year and it definitely works. The simple click noise may mean nothing to you - but to them it is a brilliant motivator to listen and react to your commands. It is a really good communication tool because they can easily understand what you want.
Best of all, it speaks their own psychological language. In the most natural way for a dog to understand, you can instill only good behaviors - more on this in a moment.
The basis of clicker training is a two-stage process of learning and reinforcement. This psychological behavior has been studied in humans and animals for decades.
If you tell your Sheltie to "sit" and he sits down, he immediately gets a click and a small treat. This is called operant conditioning. There's no surprise here; your dog did what you told him to do because he anticipated a yummy treat. He is learning by consequences.
After a while, when you tell your Sheltie to "sit" and he does so, he gets only a click and no treat. Yet he still performs the behavior, because in his mind, a click leads to a treat. He will work hard to get that click. This is called classical conditioning.
Even though you no longer provide a treat, you have instilled an automatic behavior in your dog. He is no longer driven by consequences - but by association.
Shetland Sheepdogs are known first of all for that sunny yet sensitive disposition. But they are also known for their full-bodied barking that if left unchecked will drive your neighbors crazy... The following is an excellent way to stop your Sheltie barking with clicker training - and it really works!
Encouraging your Sheltie to bark may sound counter-intuitive, but it is proven very effective so don't dismiss this without trying it yourself!
Prepare your clicker and some really irresistible treats out of view of your dog. Then, trigger the barking. This may be causing by someone knocking at the door, or talk of a cat in the garden. We all know Shelties have very quirky personalities, so do whatever it takes... Then, while your dog is barking, click and promptly give him a treat.
As soon as he takes the treat, make a hushing motion with your hand right to his face, and say "Shhh!" Since you just gave him a treat, you will firmly have his attention. Click for giving you that attention, move your hand away, and give him another treat.
When he barking starts again, click during a bark and give a treat. As the dog swallows, make the hushing cue, click and give the treat. Repeat this sequence every time your dog barks.
If this method of clicker training to stop your Sheltie barking still makes no sense to you, consider it from your dog's perspective. As the "Shhh" command starts to work, your dog will want to keep his mouth closed in anticipation of the next click - and the treat.
A neat trick is to teach your Sheltie the Speak command, by saying "Speak" and giving him a click next time he is barking. Then, hold the treat and give the "Shhh" cue. If he stops barking, give him a click and a treat for the resulting silence. Here you are instilling two cues.
The new cues are sure to become permanent if you keep the clicker and treats within reach. Reinforce "Speak" and "Shhh" anytime your Sheltie barks over the next few days. A little persistence now over the next week can pay off big time for years to come.
Here are some very good reasons to begin clicker training with your Sheltie:
Dog owners like clicker training because it is easy to learn and never involves punishing the dog. If he doesn't perform the behavior, you simply don't click. He'll quickly learn what to do in order to get the positive response he needs from you.
Some experts dislike clicker training because they want their dogs to do what they're told out of respect rather than desperation for a treat. However, treats are used ubiquitously in dog training, especially when reinforcing a new command or behavior. In this sense, clicker training is no different. What's more, gaining "respect" can mean negative reinforcement, by punishing or scaring your dog.
The reason the clicker method works so well for the dog is because, ultimately, all dog behaviors are selfish. The are driven by the law of consequence and whatever serves them best, whether that means getting a reward (clicking / praising / treating) or avoiding a punishment (correcting / isolating as in traditional dog training). By only using positive reinforcement used in clicking, everyone wins.
The ultimate goal of clicker training is (once you have ditched the treats) to ditch the clicker too. This means your dog always reacts to your commands out of habit and as a dog owner you will agree that is a joy to behold!
First you need a clicker which creates the distinctive sound to which your Sheltie will react during training. I recommend the i-Click for it's durability and good quality click.
Then you'll need to read up about clicker training from an expert so you get it right. There are very few resources on the internet dedicated to clicker training, however I found Clicker Training by Canis to be a good guide for beginners.
Clicker Training is a massive 213-page downloadable book by Norwegian dog trainers Morten Egtvedt and Cecilie Koeste. It contains the four key ingredients to effective clicker training, telling you exactly where to focus to make your training more effective. It also debunks myths about dog training and helps you understand exactly what your dog is thinking when he misbehaves. I found it very enlightening.
Clicker Taining also gives you detailed instructions for mastering the basic commands through conditioning, plus a lot of really impressive tricks you can teach your Sheltie. This becomes even easier with time as your dog becomes clicker-wise.
There is so much information in this book it is clear that Morten and Cecilie know their stuff. They were early adopters of the clicker method and are top competitors in obedience and tracking with their flat-coated Retrievers. Click here to visit their Clicker Training website for free training videos and their bestselling book.
Becky Turner is the creator of Sheltie Planet. She lives in New Zealand with her partner, Peter, and their son, Fox. Becky is 100% owned by Howard and Piper Woofington Moon, the Shelties who inspired this site. Visit them on Facebook or The Sheltie Planet Forums.