I wrote something awhile ago for a contest. Didn't win it, but I enjoyed the writing. Thought some of you might too. This is a somewhat fictionalized account of my debut as a clicker trainer. Embellished a bit for entertainment, but essentially true (except for the smack/bite bit, and the cops)
Adventures in Clicker Training
So I decide I need to clicker train my dog. My dog isn't really a very conventional dog. He's a Basenji, which some people liken to a cat with a dog-like appearance, and others just liken to something unprintable, usually when they come home and find their couch or other important piece of furniture utterly destroyed. Other than destructiveness, Basenjis are famous for their lack of bark, to the point where they are often referred to as the "Barkless Dog", which isn't really true, since some of them indeed do bark…...usually just one little "woofy" bark. The Basenji is an ancient breed that comes from Africa, the Congo being the usual spot mentioned as the place of origin, but then there were graven images of them found in Egypt, so who really knows? In any case, I developed an urgent need to clicker train my Basenji.
Clicker training is a subject that I pursued after trying every available training method known to man. I cajoled, he yodelled; I whispered, he chortled; I smacked him, he bit me. I gave him a "time out" in his crate. The neighbours called the cops, who circled the house cautiously, not sure what kind of massacre was taking place. Did I mention Basenjis scream? They also growl, howl, whine, huff, and make other noises that are indescribable. Anyone hoping for a silent apartment dog is in for a very rude awakening.
It had become obvious to me that I needed to find another approach to training. Someone mentioned success with a clicker, which brings us to Clicker Training 101. First step, load the clicker. By this, it is meant to associate the sound of the click with good things, usually edible good things. Seems simple enough, and it was. I sat down on the couch with a bag of yummy treats and a clicker, my loyal hound at my side. Did I mention Basenjis are sight hounds? They are also scent hounds, so it wasn't difficult for my dog to notice I had an enticing aroma about me. Immediately he spotted the treats and wanted them, but I didn't just hand them over......or let him grab them.....until I had first indicated food availability with a click. Click/treat, click/treat, click/treat. My dog had the idea and liked it! Free food available right after that annoying sound. We are ready for step two.
I had decided to attempt something simple for my first command. I sat down next to his crate, bag of treats in one hand, clicker at the ready in the other. What follows is an almost real time description of that first experiment. Dog attempts to access the treats. Nothing doing. Annoyed, he circles the room. As he approaches the crate, I click. He doesn't need any encouragement to grab the ensuing treat, and then again tries to persuade me to part with the others. I ignore this, and he circles the room again. And again I click his approach to the crate. Wow, another treat. Hmmm. I can almost see him thinking. This time he goes right back to where he was when I clicked, and is immediately rewarded. Rinse, repeat. After the forth time, I wait a little longer before clicking. He moves away. Nothing. He moves slightly closer to the crate. Click! He's got it. A bit of successive approximation later, and he has one foot in the door. This is proving easier than I had hoped. As if a light has switched on in my Basenji's head, he suddenly ventures all the way into the crate. Click and jackpot! He gets several treats all at once. Soon he is happily reentering the crate after each treat. Time to put the behavior on cue.
Because he must return to me for his reward, we are automatically set up for the next repetition. Now, after he receives his treat, I take the opportunity to command "kennel" just before he reenters the crate. We practice this a number of times, then I change the game slightly by moving to a different location in the room. I say "kennel". After a moment of hesitation, Basenji goes into the crate. Click and jackpot!! Practice a few more times, moving to different locations in the room. He is under "stimulus control", going into the crate whenever I invoke "kennel". Time taken for training, fifteen minutes flat. I'm impressed.
Taking nothing for granted, I end the session on a high note. Approaching the moment of truth a day later, I enter the room with my dog, say "kennel", and watch in amazement as he immediately heads into his crate. I suddenly realize I have opened up a whole new method of communication with my erstwhile recalcitrant canine. Clicker training......who knew?