Training: Part 1 – Clicker Training

“Clicker training” is an animal training method based on behavioural psychology that relies on marking desirable behaviour and rewarding it. Desirable behaviour is usually marked by using a “clicker,” a mechanical device that makes a short, distinct “click” sound which tells the animal exactly when they’re doing the right thing. This clear form of communication, combined with positive reinforcement, is an effective, safe, and humane way to teach any animal any behaviour that it is physically and mentally capable of doing.” — Karen Pryor, Clicker Training

When we were in the process of adopting Knox, we were there luckily on a day that the BCSPCA animal welfare manager, Kim Monteith, was around.

She mentioned that: 1) Knox absolutely requires training and properly socialization to become a great dog; 2) Knox was extremely food motivated; 3) clicker training would be most effective.

Having spent the better part of 2014 reading, watching, and researching about positive reinforcement training techniques, I immediately went to review videos and advice by kikopup.

Within a few days, Knox had learned all the basic commands: sit, stay, wait, say please (sitting before getting anything, going through doors, playing, etc.), let’s go. In a few days, he picked up on walking with loose leash.

#knoxdog settling in

Taken week 1: He settled in really quickly.

Granted, we had lots of help. As he settled into his new home, new behaviours emerged (as we were warned). He didn’t have any calm behaviours: he chewed up his new bed, would tug on his leash, bark for attention, jump on top of me if I sat on the floor, nip my hands and feet if I ignored him…

After lots of research – and new dog owners, please please please do your research –  we enlisted the help of Shelagh Begg of Dizine Canine who has experience with pit bulls and r+ dogs. We learned that we needed better timing with clicking, increasing our reinforcement rate, and clicking when he does something good (eye contact, positioning).

While we have a long way to go, here are some fantastic training videos by Kikopup that I refer to when in doubt:

And for kicks, a video Knox’s hyperlapse on “lie down” “flop” and “upside down”.

On a final note, if you are looking for dog trainers, be dubious of the following terms:

  • lifetime guarantee
  • train your dog in just x number of days!
  • dominance / pack-leader / alpha dog
  • prong / shock / pinch collars
  • fast results
  • flooding

I came across a number of “trainers” that refused to (or made it sound really difficult or a huge hassle to) provide client phone numbers for verbal (real life!) testimonials. I also came across many that offered to take my dog away for a week – for a nominal fee, of course – and he’d be perfectly trained! Or, “just show him who’s boss! Pin him down and he’ll submit to you forever.”

Training your dog is a life-long process and builds the bond between you and your dog. Please don’t fall for the allure of the easy way out. Be an active participant in your dog’s well-being. 🙂 They’re sentient beings; your dog will only be as good as the time you’re willing to put into it.

Do your research on dog behaviour and the dangers of punitive training methods before you send your dog away for any type of training. The best trainers will want to work with you, not take your dog for two weeks to “fix” the behavioural issues, and will be dedicated to making your dog feel safer and more confident. — Alex Andes via Positively “When Good Rescue Groups Make Bad Dog Training Decisions”

Fear-based tactics (dominance, pack-leader, alpha dog, pinning your dog down, etc.) “work” insofar as your dog is scared rather than rationalizing against a behaviour. As the saying goes..

If you want rational responses, look at the dog. If you want emotional responses, look at the owner.


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