Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Clicker Questions

My FarmWife owns a clicker. She owns a treat-apron, loaded with delectable morsels. She owns a food-motivated yet respectful mule—one who waits for a treat to be presented rather than going after it himself, that is. I have the manners and the inclination to become a real superstar in the clicker-trained-animal division, but FarmWife has a few questions. Experts? Feel free to chime in!

1) is it ok to allow me, Fenway Bartholomule, to see and hear her clicker-training Clover the chihuahua in my field of vision? Will I become confused if I witness such an outrage? Similarly, what if Clover witnesses me being reinforced with the clicker during her "loading" period, when she is supposed to get a treat immediately after each and every click? Won't she feel gypped?

2) Can FarmWife reinforce several things in one session, or is it better to keep it simple? For instance, if FarmWife wants my backing up on the ground to be priority one, is it also ok for her to click at me for doing something else nice? Can I get clicked at and rewarded for braying, for instance, if that's something she wants to hear more of, or would that confuse me since I'm supposed to be getting clicked at for backing?

3) Should FW clicker-train every day to keep the connection (sound=treat=yes!) fresh? Can she miss a few days and expect me to remember the concept? ("Of course you must never miss a day, and there must be carrots hourly," I tell her, but she won't take it from me).

Ears to you, and may you be clicked at for every good thing!



  1. In My Never Humble Opinion:
    1. No. I think it will be confusing.
    2. No. Initially she should make it very clear what the task is. (For Clover's sake - we all know that you, Fenway Bartholomule, will "get" it, but we don't want to confuse the wee doggie.) Later, when you have learned multiple tasks, she should click for any of them (within the bounds of Skinnerian inconsistent rewarding).
    3. Initially, I think she should train every day. I'm sure there's some optimal initial timeframe, but you at least want more consecutive days than days off initially. Maybe 3-4 on, 1 off, 3-4 on, 1 off, 3 on, 2 off... etc.?

  2. Not sure about 1. My animals are all jealous of each other at all times. I never considered your question.

    2) I do this all the time. I get bored, and I assume Dixie (or Cersei) gets bored, just doing the same thing. We go from easy head-down to easy backing up two steps to Hard New Thing, then once she nails that a few times I go back to some easy head-down work.

    3) I never manage to train consistently, yet my horse and my dog both manage to remember what we've worked on perfectly. You, as a superior hybrid animal, will no doubt recall even more flawlessly.

  3. Hey AnnE, I just realized I totally disagreed with you. Of course YMMV, and I don't train the optimal way - but it does work even if you're inconsistent :)

  4. It really depends on the animal. With my own horse and rhodesian ridgeback I always start anything new by themselves. Once they have the concept I'll invite the other dogs. But if the ridgeback is having trouble I'll have my collie demonstrate first, then the competition helps him try to figure it out. If the animal is very competitive and you have another animal that already knows the behavior training them together works great. But if one is easily distracted then it defeats the purpose.
    As far as the loading period you really want to do that separately. You want their total attention on you. If there are too many distractions you might not get the loading conditioning you want.
    With all my pets and pets I train (its what I do for a living) I always work multiple behaviors in a session. And a session doesn't last longer than three successes or 15 minutes. If they are having trouble I always end with something they can do correctly.
    If your local library had it the book "Don't Shoot the Dog" is an awesome book about clicker training.

  5. Oh and as far as training every day. I saw a clients dog that hadn't had any clicker work in almost 2 years immediately get excited when I started using one on him. He started offering behaviors he had not had to do since the last time I saw him. So no you don't need to do every day. However mammalian learning being what it is, if they have kept the behavior past 5 weeks your set. So how I train, I practice the behavior often for at least one week multiple times a day, if they've gotten it firmly. Then sporadically everyday after until after the five to six week mark. You will usually start to see back sliding sometime during it, that's when it's very important to stick to it then to be sure it "sticks". This learning behavior cycles every 5 to 6 week, that's when the mind starts to put things in long term memory and not just short term, so if you have the behavior firmly down they will have for a long time. Of course that's not to say they won't need reminders. LOL

  6. Great questions! I've been wondering myself some "clicker questions" like - do I really have to use the "clicker thing"? And how important is that particular "thing"? Because, I'm a disorganized sort of person, but I always have my mouth - can I come up with a mouth sound that I only use for "clicker training" and use it instead of the very special click? Love to see more clicker posts - I remember you mentioning about sunflower seeds and chickens -

  7. Hmmm...I wrote a long answer to 1) but I'm not sure I hit all the right buttons...??
    Anyhoo, for 2), keep it simple. Try and think of 3 simple distinct behaviors and work on them separately. Get Fenway offering them, get them on cue and then stop rewarding him if he offers them and you haven't cued them!
    Backing is excellent! (Also I like touching a target and stand still/relaxed.) Once Fenway has the idea that taking a step back makes the vending machine work, then associate a cue with it. I like the word 'back'. Or a hand up with a waggling finger (or both). Once Fenway takes a step back from the cue (understands the cue), then stop rewarding him if he steps back and you Havent' given him a cue. This will be the hardest thing you will ever have to do in your whole life!!! But do it!! He will offer you the most beautiful back a mule has ever offered anyone ever but if you haven't cued it, don't reward it. ONLY reward it when you've asked for it. Same with the other behaviors. Remember this is after he's had about a million treats for the behavior while he was first learning it, and then a million more treats while he was learning which cue was associated with it! We don't want our animals throwing behaviors at us (even though it's so damn cute!). We want them to learn to watch us for a cue because a cue is an opportunity for them to earn a treat.
    Once Fenway knows 3 solid behaviors, he will really understand this form of communicating and you can start mixing things up a bit and getting creative. So yes it works fine to click for mulitple behaviors as long as he can understand what it is he's getting clicked for. He will be your best teacher here. If he doesn't seem to be getting it, then change things to make it easier for him. Clear as mud??

  8. Ugh...I guess my answer to 1) didn't post...
    In the beginning you really want to keep your animas well separated while clicker training. It's extremely difficult to train two animals at once which is what you need to do when working in proximity with another. If you work near Fenway and he sees you clicker training your dog, he might, out of frustration, start doing some undesirable behaviors like pawing, banging or head tossing. If you even glance at him while he does any of these, he will be slightly rewarded and might keep doing them. What needs to happen is he needs to learn that when you are working with another animal, good things will happen if he stands politely and quietly. In order for him to learn this, you have to teach him!
    For example, you have your dog over the fence from Fenway and you are working on clicking and treating something VERY simple like sit or target but your concentration is really on Fenway. IF Fenway stands quietly, throw a treat to him. YOu don't need to click. You can tell him good if you like but all that needs to happen is a treat gets tossed in his bucket. If he starts any behavior that's not polite, you can just take your dog and leave. But try and work fast and treat him quickly BEFORE he gets frustrated. Once he starts to learn to stand politely, you can increase the duration of time between treats. If you're very careful, he'll learn very quickly and seeing you work another animal will become appetitive to him instead of a source of frustration.

  9. 3)I once spent about five minutes with a horse just clicking and treating something simple and a year later when I visited this horse, the ears picked up and she went straight into the behavior that we worked on a whole year ago!!! (The behavior was 'head down') Blew my socks off!!! This was a retired horse (late teens) and noone had done any training let alone clicker training with her in that year. So...no worries about them remembering!!
    I never use a clicker anymore - just a tongue click.
    It's a good idea to always use your treat vest(s) when training so Fenway can learn to distinguish between a training session and just hanging out. Also always end a session the same way so Fenway doesn't think he did something wrong to make the vending machine leave. I make a slapping motion with my hands like I'm wiping off crumbs and I say "all done" and then I also put some treats in their bucket before I leave. Doesn't matter WHAT you do, just make it clear.
    I must say, Fenway is a lucky lucky boy!!
    A quick note about the e word (exercise)...you can invent some very fun games with the clicker that can give quite a bit of exercise. Chasing the tiger is a good one. You put a cloth on the end of a stout light stick and you teach Fenway to touch it. Then to follow it. Then to chase it! Yee haa!!! You will get some exercise to but that is only fair.


Thanks in Advance for Your Mulish Opinion!