Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Smart Dogs + Good Treats = Quick Success

Rose and Nells, the two Hedlund husky pups that are the newest additions to the Stardancer Historical Freight Dogs, have been introduced to the clicker, and they are coming right along at a blazing fast pace.

These two kids are very food motivated, which makes it much easier to train. Not all dogs find food treats particularly rewarding, and in order for methods based on operant conditioning to work, one MUST find 'rewards' that the DOGS consider to be rewards. In the case of Rose and Nells those little "Yummy Chummy" salmon based treats sold in some of our local feed stores fits the bill very nicely.

The first step in clicker training is to teach the dog that the sound of the clicker means that s/he is going to get a reward. With food motivated dogs this is done by sitting on the dog house with a clicker in one hand and treats in the other. Give and click and feed a treat, over and over and over. When you think the dog "gets it", stop long enough for the dog to shift it's attention elsewhere and then click. If the dog comes back to you for the treat, you can be confident that the association of the click with the treat is there.

When I have older dogs in the house, all I have to do to get an instant "come" is click a clicker (I have them scattered all over the place along with caches of goodies just for this sort of thing. The moment they hear the click they come charging toward me from all directions.

Rose and Nells are figuring out the click and treat thing incredibly fast. It won't be very long at all before they are learning all sorts of cool behaviors to perform on cue. This opens the door to training all sorts of desirable behaviors. Obedience training is a nice way to keep the dog's brains engaged, especially during periods when it is way too hot or the trails way too sloppy to do physical training.

My next step with Rose and Nells will be to start "shaping" behaviors they already offer to teach them to perform those behaviors on cue. One of my favorites in the dog yard is "hup", the cue for the dog to jump up on his or her dog house for pets, handling, &c. It's much easier to work with a dog on the "table" than on the ground, especially when the ground is muddy and mucky.

Both dogs already jump on their houses frequently and I often approach them with pets and treats when they do so. Now when they jump on their houses I'll click and treat (C/T) the behavior. We'll do that in several short sessions over a couple of days and when I'm sure they are doing it to earn the C/T I'll start putting the cue to the behavior, telling them "hup" when they are making their run toward the house. If things progress as quickly as it has with other dogs, within just a couple of days I should be able to tell them "hup" while walking toward their circles and they'll make a bee-line for the platform.

This drill will train a desirable behavior, and also help reinforce the association of the clicker to learning behaviors. It's all part of an ongoing process that we all enjoy.

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