Clicker Training: Capturing a Behavior and Putting It on Cue

clicker training with cockatiel

Spike gets a treat

There are big changes afoot for me this year, and one of the biggest is more focus on both clicker training and nose work. I’ve posted a few times about nose work over the holidays. (There is more coming.) Here is the first in a series of posts about clicker training.

In November I enrolled in the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Program. Karen Pryor and her students are best known for clicker training. This is a departure for me. I’ll get into what lead me to this decision in a later post. Today I’d like to share some of the fun homework I had over the holidays.

Capturing a Behavior

Capturing is exactly when it sounds like: catching the dog (or other animal) doing the behaviors we’re looking for!

The first step is to figure out what you want to train. This is best done not by deciding what you want and then training the dog, but observing what he does and then decided what we want to work with. What does your dog do on his own, with no encouragement from you? Does he sit? Lie down? Lift a paw? Tilt his head? Any behavior you see can be captured.

Once you have selected the behavior you want, get your clicker, a bunch of treats, a timer, and a pad and paper. If you have not worked with your dog before with a clicker, take some time to click-and-treat, click-and-treat etc., for a few minutes to make sure he understands that a click means a treat is coming.

Now watch your dog. Every time he does what you want click and treat. Here I am starting to capture Buddha’s paw lift:

You want to click *as the dog performs the behavior* not afterwards. It takes some time to get the timing right. I chose a nice "big" behavior to capture with Buddha so I had room to be sloppy.

It’s important to break up your training sessions into 2 or 3 minute chunks – don’t work for so long that you or your dog get tired or discouraged. You can mix in some play in between, and this training may take a few days. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun!

Putting it On Cue

After a while your dog will start to offer the behavior more often. He will start to expect the click when he does what your looking for, and you will start to anticipate when he will do it. Now it is time to start counting.

Set your timer and keep count of how many times you click. (If you can get someone to help you, they can keep count.) When you can get to 10 or more clicks a minute, it’s time for the cue! A cue can be anything that your dog can see, hear, feel or smell. (Detection dogs use the smell of drugs as a cue.)

When you see your dog is about to perform the behavior, give the cue and then click and treat when he does it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

After some time you will see that your dog is waiting to hear (or see) the cue. Continue to click and treat when you ask for it, but do not reward him for doing it on his own. Buddha was having problems with this in the video above. This will teach your dog that when you’re working together, he should perform the behavior only when asked. At the same time don’t reward him for doing something else when you give the cue. Make sure he understands the relationship between the cue and the behavior.

The dog training program is a comprehensive course. So comprehensive that after I was done capturing behaviors with a dog, I was required to work with another species!

I am working on getting Spike to peck his mirror on cue. It’s a very different game, but I am having a great time with it!

I have started a Youtube playlist right here. It has a few more videos on it, and I will be adding more as I go.

Clicker Training: Capturing a Behavior and Putting It on Cue is a post from: Dog Spelled Forward


Dog Spelled Forward Website and Blog

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