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Music: Spanish Harlem (Ben. E. King)
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Paw Bar

Copyright Carole Mineault
Carole Mineault, above pictured
swimming with the dolphins

Paw Bar


By Carole Mineault
(Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved)

How to have Fun while Effectively Training your Bichon
Clicker training is a scientific method based on the learning theories described in B.F.Skinner's "Theory of Operant Conditioning".  Back in the 1940's Skinner's students pioneered clicker training and trained dogs,
cats, birds, mammals and other animals, including many for the U.S. Defence Department. One of their numerous accomplishments was to train pigeons to guide WW2 bombs.

In the 1960's, an astute and talented lady, Karen Pryor, was challenged to train porpoises to perform a variety
of behaviors for marine shows at Sea Life Park in Hawaii.  Without collars and leashes, with only a whistle and a bucket of fish, and by applying the laws of operant conditioning, she was able to communicate with her porpoises, and control and shape truly spectacular acts for Sea Life Park shows. Typically, all the marine acts you see today  have been trained this way.  Marine trainers use a whistle as a training tool, rather than a clicker, because the sound of the whistle travels well in their marine training venue. Dog trainers typically use a clicker.

Around 1992, Karen coined the phrase "clicker training" in the dog world, as more and more dog trainers began to train by adding behavioral methology to the art of dog training.  By applying the laws of operant conditioning, you can literally train any creature that has a brain stem. Trainers have been highly successful in using this training approach to train horses, cats, (both domestic and wild) birds, rats, mice, pigs, cows, turtles, racoons,
elephants, rhinos, ferrets, mammals (including killer whales and the fish in your fishtank at home), and countless other species.  More and more zoos are using clicker training to train their animals to perform various
behaviors, including presenting their limbs for Veterinary procedures. A gorilla can be trained to open his mouth for a dental check. An elephant can be trained to present an ear through the bars of his cage for a blood
sample to be safely taken. The applications are endless.  Many of the dogs on TV shows or in movies have been clicker trained to perform the behaviors you see.

Several years ago, I was fortunate to be able to attend a coveted two day clicker training seminar presented by Marian Breland-Bailey PhD, who studied under Skinner, and Bob Bailey.  Imagine having the opportunity
of a lifetime to learn from these two highly knowlegeable people who had trained more than 120 different species of animals, and thousands of individuals. That weekend, we trained chickens! What FUN that was!!!

A clicker, a handful of your dog's favourite treats, and your Bichon are all you need to embark on an incredible journey.  Along the way, you'll discover how dog's learn, and how you can communicate with your dog in a
language that he understands.

The clicker is an acoustic device. It's typically a small handheld plastic box with a metal strip inside. When the metal strip is depressed by a finger or a thumb, it makes a 'click' sound.  The sound is distinct, sharp
and crisp; it's unlike the sounds that your dog typically hears in the run of a day.

Initially the 'click' sound holds no meaning for the dog,  however consider this: if everytime you click once, you follow that click by giving your dog a treat that he loves, what do you think will happen? Yes, you guessed
right! He'll quickly begin to associate the click as predicting that a treat will follow. We clicker trainers call that 'charging the clicker'.

The next step is to set up a training session so that he can begin to discover that it is his behavior that causes the click/treat to occur. Dogs are engaging in behavior all the time. The clicker is used to mark and identify the exact behavior that will be reinforced. Choose a simple behavior to begin with. Some ideas are to click when your dog looks at you, or to click when your dog looks to the left, or to click when your dog lies down, or to click when he play bows. Remember the deal is a treat follows every click. With repetition, the dog will learn that exactly what he was doing at the moment the click sounded will result in a treat. Dogs do what works. Behavior that is reinforced will be repeated. You'll know when he gets the idea as he'll begin offering you the behavior(s) that he's been C/T'd for.

Be sure to be watching his behavior, and be ready to click the slightest body movement towards that wanted behavior. Timing is important when using a clicker to communicate and identify exactly what will be clicked. Try to click AS the behavior occurs. Try to be quiet and non verbal. The noise of you talking is as distracting to him as it would be if someone was trying to talk to you while you were trying to figure out a math question. Let
your clicker do the talking. Let him figure the game out. Concentrate on observing your dog's body movements/behavior so you can provide quick accurate feedback with your click. Smile. Relax. Have fun capturing the behaviors you want repeated . Remember, you want your dog to be successful. You want to build the want to play this clicker game so concentrate on your timing of the click, your criteria and your rate of reinforcement. The better timing you have with your click, the quicker your dog will get the idea and the faster he'll learn.

Try to make it easy, clear and fun for him. Make your expectations/criteria something your dog can succeed at so that your rate of reinforcement will be high. You want him to get the idea that he makes the click happen. You want him to begin deliberately offering you the behavior(s) that you've C/T'd him for. You want your dog to want to be an active, eager and willing participant in the training game.

Clicker trainers don't add the cue/command to perform the behavior until after the dog has identified the behavior he's been C/T'd for and is confidently offering it in training sessions.

Clicker training works for teaching new behaviors as well as for changing unwanted behaviors. Rather than punishing unwanted behaviors, clicker trainers use management to prevent unwanted behaviors and they
teach/reinforce a behavior that is incompatible with the unwanted behavior.

Clicker training is based on positive reinforcement techniques to train behaviors. The dog is never 'forced' to do any behaviors. The dog is free to experiment, and thus he is free to learn what works and what doesn't work.
It's ideal to use for training dogs of any age, including very young puppies so that they have the best possible chance of growing up to be able to blend well into our human culture. There is no need to wait until six months of age to begin training a puppy for obedience trials, or anything else.

What I love most about clicker training is watching the dog's eyes sparkle as they 'get' the game and become confident, willing participants.

Written for Bichons Across Canada by Carole Mineault. Copyright 2006 Carole Mineault - All rights reserved


Carole (pictured 
  with her Bichon Frise 'Chami')
is located in Sussex,
New Brunswick.

Click on her photo to contact 
her for information about her
training classes, or for her
excellent grooming services!
 Copyright Carole Mineault


Paw Bar

Carole recommends a visit to the following link:

 Training Articles - Clicker Solutions



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