By Al Longoria
One of the most often asked questions I get is, “why do we use treats and toys to train our dogs?” The answer for me is always pretty simple, the dogs love them. When I come to meet a dog for the first time I like to play some different games and get as specific as possible with what their favorite kind of food is. As my client and I take their dog through this test, the dog quickly gives us information that we can use. So now armed with the knowledge of the dogs favorite toy and the dogs favorite food, I begin to now fade them out of sight.
Classical conditioning can simply be summarized this way, associating something the dog does is neutral towards to something the dog is highly interested in or even something the dog will want to get away from. In our program we begin to associate that neutral something to the things we now know the dog loves. This could be a variety of things much like your voice, a whistle, maybe even touching you dog. We choose to start with a clicker.
So let me explain some of the reasons dog trainers love to use the clicker. One of the most important reasons is how dogs perceive time. Let’s just say that you may only have 1.5 seconds from the time your dog does anything to tell him he is right. If you cover any thing more than about 3 steps away from your dog, you are already too far away to reinforce him well for the behavior. Another reason is how dogs store memories. If they see a treat or a toy in your hand, this image will be stored as part of the memory. This can lead to struggles when you do not have those objects in hand. So as much as I love how hard my dog will work to get the piece of food or play with the toy, I can’t carry those around with me for the rest of the dog’s life nor do I want to. One of the things that I believe the dog’s brain does when we have the sound completely conditioned, is that when it hears the sound the dogs’ brain subconsciously believes the food is already in its mouth or that it is already playing the game. I do not feel the dogs subconsciously thinks that the food or toy is coming.
So now I want to condition my clicker to eventually mean the food is already in your mouth or you are playing with your toy. I start with having the clicker in my hand and all the treats or toys hidden away in a pocket. If I am using food I always want the dog to be hungry for it. I start the process by clicking the moment the dogs looks into my eyes. Once this happens I count to 1 in my head before I make any movement towards the pocket with the treats. I then pull out a treat and begin to hand it to my dog. I like to hand several treats one treat at a time with each one coming out of the pocket in succession. Do not click for each treat, rather only click the moment the dog is looking into your eyes. You can do the same process for the dogs favorite toy too. Just be sure the toy is out of view and you are not moving towards it when you are in the middle of the click. A conditioned clicker may take about about three days to give it the full effect.
With a clicker that is completely conditioned, I can begin to point out to the dog all the things I want him to do and he will have a sense of pleasure each and every time I click him for doing those behaviors and with plenty of consistency on your part you dog will repeat those things over and over.
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