Picture the scene: You’re at home with your feet up, watching Crufts. It’s one of the high points of the competition – the close heel work displays. As you watch a respectable looking middle aged lady dressed as a squaw go through a flawless routine with a border collie wearing a cute cowboy hat and bandana, you hear the sound of something being chewed. It’s your pet dog making short work of your brand new Nike Assassins. Despite your commands for him to stop, he takes them into the corner of the room to finish the job. Meanwhile, the collie on the TV is executing an exquisite pirouette, and you’re rolling your eyes so much that they’re in danger of unscrewing and falling to the floor, you wonder why your dog can’t be that well behaved.
It’s understandable to be at a loss at where to begin to train your dog to that standard. In truth, it’s incredibly difficult, and it takes and experienced dog trainer many man-hours to make it that far. However, if you would just like your pooch to stop chewing your expensive new trainers on command, you can take a leaf out of their book with a dog training device called a clicker.
As its name suggests, a clicker clicks. It’s a small piece of metal in a plastic housing, which makes a noise similar to the old ‘pop-o-matic’ dice on games like Frustration. It makes a sharp sound, which makes it an excellent conditioned response re-enforcer.
When you speak to your dog, you will sound pretty much like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons to him. He will take more notice of your tone rather than what you actually say. This means that even when you say something encouraging to him, its meaning can be lost if you are tired, distracted or have a mouth full of Cornish pasty. A clicker makes a short, consistent sound, and when used with a dog toy or some other treat, is great for training your dog.
It works like this: you wait until your pet does something you want him to do, such as sit. When he does this, you click, and you give him some positive reinforcement such as a treat or a scratch behind the ear. Your dog will try and work out what he did to elicit this affection. When he sits again, repeat the click and the treat. He’ll quickly do some canine calculations: click + sit = treat.
The next step is to add a verbal command to sit. Only click and dispense a treat when he sits after you have given this verbal cue. With a little patience, he will respond to the command without the need for a click.
Of course, this is just the beginning of training your dog using a clicker. You will need to dedicate a lot of time before you’re busting some moves with your pooch on TV, but it’s a start. Pretty soon, your pet will obey a range of basic commands and, for many dog owners, this will be more than enough.
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