I'd like some tips on clicker training my new dog.
November 26, 2008 8:13 AM   Subscribe

I recently adopted a 2 yr. old Shih Tzu from the pound. He's been to the vet and has a clean bill of health. He's settled very well into things here and I'd like to start working on training him. After reading about several different methods I find clicker training the most interesting but I've never done it before. Anyone have any suggestions or tips?

My new dog Ernie is a very smart, very sweet young Shih Tzu. He's outgoing without being hyper or over-excitable. He is inquisitive, curious, gentle and quiet. He's not scared or timid nor is he aggressive in any way toward other animals or people. But he doesn't appear to have been trained. He doesn't even know how to sit at this point. I want to start training him on the basics and I think clicker training looks like a good way to go about things.

Has anyone ever used clicker training? Are there any tips you might have for making the experience a fun and effective one? Anything you wish someone had told you about clicker training before you started that you learned along the way? Do I need to "charge" the clicker (teach the dog to associate it with rewards) before starting to shape behavior? I've read conflicting opinions on whether this is necessary. Any good books I should look out for? Can I do this completely on my own or should I also get us into a class together?

Despite having had dogs for most of my life I've never taken part in any formal training program. My last dog was sort of a little miracle and just seemed to magically learn what I wanted her to do so she spoiled me a little, I suppose. Still, training looks like a lot of fun for both me and Ernie and I'm eager to get started. Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
posted by lysistrata to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm sorry, no AskMe pet post can be answered without a photo. Please bring out the cuteness. :)
posted by radioamy at 9:06 AM on November 26, 2008


I love clicker training, its pretty fun and I think it works well with smaller breed dogs or dogs who aren't remarkably food motivated. It makes me feel like I could teach my dog to do anything.

This is a book I liked pretty well.http://www.amazon.com/Clicking-Your-Dog-Step-Step/dp/189094808X/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1227718416&sr=8-1

I also got a Karen Pryor book called Don't Shoot the Dog and thought it was too dense. Lots of people suggest it, I didn't love it (or get through it, really)

And I do think you should load the clicker. Not every time, but at least once. That way the dog knows this noise is different from other noises, and pays lots of attention to it.

Timing the click is everything. If you are teaching him to sit, click the instant his but hits the floor. When you give him the treat really doesn't matter.

One funny thing that I started doing and won't do again, was clicking and rewarding when he stopped doing something I didn't want him to do. He would get on the couch, I would tell him to get down and when his feet hit the floor I would click. That did not make him stay off the couch, it just made him get on the couch repeatedly so that I would tell him to get down. He's tricky that way.

As far as a class, I do think this is something you can teach on your own without a class. Classes are fun for other reasons though, and as an owner of a small dog as well, I think its important that the little fellows learn how to interact with big dogs appropriately so they don't get hurt-class gave us a good opportunity to do that.

Have fun with the pup, he sounds like a great dog!
posted by mjcon at 9:23 AM on November 26, 2008


Heh, some pics: Ernie on my roomie's lap after his first trip to the groomer (he looks a lot bigger here than he actually is) and another shot of his new haircut (we weren't planning on having him cut quite so short but he was terribly matted.)
posted by lysistrata at 9:23 AM on November 26, 2008


You HAVE to get The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller. She uses the clicker method and is all about making it fun. I have read a bunch of dog training books and for friendly pet purposes, this is best method. She also does obedience work, but only in a "fun" way.
posted by letahl at 9:54 AM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I just have to add that I also think clicker training is awesome. I had a horse who was stall-bound for a few weeks after an injury, and started working with him for fun and to keep his mind busy. I taught him to fetch in two days, with sessions of about fifteen minutes each, and he never forgot that trick. It's a fun way to train, and incredibly effective.

I used a book and DVD and found them sufficient and useful; I've never gone to any kind of formal training either and didn't find that I needed it.

Have fun!!!
posted by OolooKitty at 10:37 AM on November 26, 2008


Oh, and BTW, your dog is adorable.
posted by OolooKitty at 10:37 AM on November 26, 2008


I have clicker trained two dogs and read lots of books, web sites, etc. I highly recommend to you Sue Ailsby's "levels" program. (www.dragonflyllama.com -- sorry, I'm on my phone and can't link to it) This is a comprehensive, step-by-step program to teach your dog not only basic obedience, but also all the skills needed to participate in fun dog sports like agility, rally, tracking, etc. Sue is a well-respected clicker trainer and is great at teaching you how to teach your dog. There is also a Yahoo group for people training the levels. I've got a shelf full of books, but the levels program is just so motivating, fun, and helpful that it's the main thing I use now.
posted by HotToddy at 12:56 PM on November 26, 2008


My wife is a professional dog trainer, she uses positive reinforcement only clicker based training. It is AMAZING what she can achieve in a few sessions, and is all I am allowed to recommend :).

The problem with learning from books is that in order to be successful you have to be very good at 3 things:

1. Understanding the cues the dog is giving you via body language.
2. Being aware and in control of all the verbal and non verbal cues YOU are giving the dog.
3. Have perfect timing.

2 is very hard due to all the unconscious signals people are sending all the time. It is the main source of frustration for new trainer. If it works for you, then great, if you or your dog starts getting frustrated, try to get a coach. It is very easy for a coach to train you to train your dog in 1 or 2 sessions.

You don't say where you are located, but at least here in San Francisco, the SPCA offers very affordable classes for beginners where they teach this stuff. You are required to take them when you adopt a dog from them. Check with your local SPCA or equivalent.
posted by dirty lies at 1:49 PM on November 26, 2008


My suggestion would be to go observe a class. Find out when a beginning class starts and go watch! Most places that offer classes will let you do this. This will give you insight into how to handle the clicker/food timing.

If you don't want to go watch a class - watch a tv show that uses a clicker. I know that Victoria Stillwell uses clickers on It's Me or the Dog on Animal Planet on some dogs. (There may be some clips on youtube or on the Animal Planet website.) I know there was a show on a couple weeks ago with a 12 year-old Jack Russell where she showed the owners how to use the clicker/treats in an effective way.

Also, I want to point out that some dogs aren't going to care about food treats. I've got one dog that will do ANYTHING for a treat and I've got one dog that absolutely doesn't care about treats or toys and I teach him how to do new things by bribing him with chest rubs. You just need to find the thing your dog is most apeshit about.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 3:41 PM on November 26, 2008


Just a brief followup: I read several books, including the ones recommended here, and started clicker training Ernie. He has responded remarkably well. He learned how to sit on cue in two days and how to lie down in three. We're now working on down-stay. Clicker training has turned out to be the most fun I've had with a dog in a long time. Ernie lights up if I even look at the drawer where the clickers are kept.

Thank you to everyone who made suggestions. Positive training has been a blessing. And Ernie has been an even bigger one!
posted by lysistrata at 9:19 PM on December 17, 2008


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