May 06, 2022
Melissa had signed Zena up for a six-week puppy training course and the first session was today. The circuitous route the GPS took us to get to the trainer’s house was only made more difficult when I missed one of the turns and was routed through back streets to arrive at our destination. We had been asked to stop in the drive and call when we arrived. The trainer said his larger dog was “aggressive” and needed to be in the house. When we arrived, we saw the small dachshund liked to dig searching for moles in the yard. When we called, he put his dogs in the house to give Zena full access to the back yard. My first thought was these were traits that might need to be trained for his own pets, but I held my tongue. As we entered the garage converted into a training studio, he explained he used the clicker approach to train dogs.
When I looked online, I found Clicker training (or mark and reward) is the same as positive reinforcement training, with the added benefit of a clicker, with the clicker being a small noisemaker. The technique is based on the findings that rewarded behaviors are more likely to be repeated later. Rather than focusing on what your dog is doing wrong, clicker training concentrates on what your dog is doing right. When you reinforce positive results, you can have a significant effect on how your dog decides to behave. Dogs repeat behaviors that get them what they want and positive reinforcement training rewards the dog for behaviors you desire. The clicker then tells your dog exactly which behavior you are rewarding. When you click at the right time you “mark” the moment your dog did what you wanted. That means the dog does not have to guess which behavior they are being rewarded for and will learn faster.
The trainer went on to explain the clicker is merely a way to mark a moment. There is nothing magical about the specific noise, except you likely never make it around your dog outside of training. That means you can substitute anything as a marker if it is distinct from other ways you communicate with your dog. Although he had a clicker, the trainer used the marker word “Yes” as a marker to reinforce Zena’s response. It was amazing to see how fast Zena caught on to the trainer. In the hour she learned hand signals for sit, lay down, and come (with a lot of treats). Most of the time was spent on training Melissa and I to be good puppy parents.
THOUGHTS: After leaving the trainer’s house Melissa thought she knew where we were. Rather than winding back through the neighborhood we turned left and came to a main road that led to the highway. Three blocks later and we were on the Interstate. I chose to follow the GPS on the way over to take the quickest route, but we got lost. On the way back Melissa used her memory to find a more direct route. We did not even have a clicker. Both puppies and humans learn faster and retain more information using positive reinforcement. Corporal punishment will eventually train children to behave, but willingness to learn comes from positive reinforcement. You just need to find the right clicker. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.