Clicker Dog Training
We use proven clicker dog training techniques. We make the scent training so incredibly rewarding that your dog will stay at the source of scent and not want to leave!
We want the dog to find the target scent and stay there because he knows his job, and he feels so happy doing it that it’s difficult to pull him away. Our proven training techniques deliver the rewards the dog wants most, in the most effective way. Evidence-based dog training techniques show us how. As a result, our proven training techniques work quickly and effectively, for most dogs, from big to small, old to young, of all breeds and abilities. We strive to inform you so you can make good choices about which dog training techniques fit best for you and your dog. We’ll help clarify your goals and progress towards reaching them.
Clicker Dog training: Be a Splitter, Not a Lumper
One of the most common mistakes we see is that handlers are impatient. They want their dog to do everything, right away. They tend to lump too many things together, making it virtually impossible for the dog to succeed. For example, they bring the dog to a distracting new environment where the dog is not comfortable, they provide treats that the dog spits out, they ask the dog to perform long, difficult searches, they expect the dog to indicate the exact location, and then they wonder if they should give a reward. Most dogs fail because the handler lumped all these aspects together, when the dog is unable to succeed at each of the tasks by itself.
Consider reading. (Dogs are not humans, but this may help you to relate based on your life experiences, in a way that may foster patience with your dog.) Imagine you’re a child who hasn’t yet learned to read. Someone hands you a huge book in a foreign language, and tells you to figure it out because you’ll be tested on your comprehension of its contents the next day. Your chances of success would be limited by the reality that too many impossible tasks have been lumped together. If you’re a splitter, you would break down the final performance into many small, achievable tasks, and then work on each one separately. So you’d learn the ABC’s, then play games with letter, then sound out small words, sound out large words, learn the foreign language, increase your vocabulary, practice reading comprehension, etc.
In creating the plan, it’s important to note that all learners learn at different speeds. You don’t need to learn quickly in order to become proficient. If you achieve each step and are determined to follow through the plan, you will reach your goals in time. Similarly, you can’t pressure your dog to learn in a certain amount of time. Instead, focus on each task, celebrating its completion, and eventually you’ll put it all together.
Clicker Dog Training Marks the Moment the Dog is Successful
Once your dog enjoys food rewards, you can teach him how to be a clicker dog. We use proven clicker dog training techniques and teach him how to search for target scent in the scent dog training lab, as inspired by Andrew Ramsey. In this step, dogs learn to “find it”. The clicker dog training marks the instant the dog’s nose reaches the source of the scent, and then delivers rewards at the source of scent.
Once the dog is proficient at finding scent in the lab, we try scent hidden near the lab (interior searches), vehicles, then exteriors.
Choose one Behavior to Click and Reward
It’s a critically important decision that only the handler can make: which behaviour should your dog display when he’s made a decision about the location of target scent? Possible behaviors to click and reward include: freeze with nose at source and focused attention, sit or down.
We train the dogs to indicate the location of source (the highest concentration of odor), within 2-6 inches.
Perfect practice makes perfect performance. We structure scent dog training and reward in such a way that the dog doesn’t build bad habits. For example, we don’t click or reward:
- the dog for looking at the handler,
- help the dog to find odor (such as walking there and stopping motion until the dog stops too),
- repeat the dog’s name
- repeat the cues to search or find it, and
- we don’t reward biting, mouthing, licking, chewing, or digging at scent.
Indicating Scent in a Box
Once the dog is proficient at finding it, we focus our efforts on teaching the dog to “show me”. First we train the dog to perform the desired indication on 1 box e.g. down with nose pressed at source and focused attention. When the dog is proficient at indicating 1 box, we add boxes up to 24 total. After the dog is proficient at low hides, we generalise to high hides, up to 4-6 feet.
Proofing & Fluency
Once the dog is successfully finding odor and indicating odor, we challenge the dog to test his understanding. Note that in the upper levels of nosework competition, dogs must ignore food and toy distractions intentionally placed in the search area, in order to find and indicate target odor under time pressure. As such, proofing includes exposure to distractions, distance, handler movement, duration, search environments, reward schedules, precision and accuracy. When the dog performs under all of these varied conditions, the behaviour has been trained to fluency.
When you want to teach the dog, you need to know where source is, so you can mark and reward on time.
Putting it All Together
Now, we combine the components the dog has learned into a final performance. Once the dog is performing well, then we focus on teaching the handler, including blind searches (where the handler does not know the location of the target odor, so rewards will be inevitably late.) Since the dog has a long history of reinforcement, he is confident and the behaviours he has learned have become part of muscle memory. So even if we don’t reward when he performed his job properly, he will likely continue to search, find, and indicate as he tries to earn reinforcement.
We hate to see people fail, but unfortunately we see failure often, and retraining is challenging. Preventing problems is far better than fixing issues after failure, frustration and confusion. Some common mistakes include:
- Not choosing a clearly defined goal– for example, not choosing one indication for nosework.
- Not envisioning what the ideal performance should look like
- Not following a proven training protocol that breaking down the performance into small, achievable steps
- Not setting the dog up for success
- Rewarding garbage – for example, rewarding digging and biting at source in nosework
- Overestimating what the dog knows
- After the dog fails, believing that the dog is bad or untrainable, blaming failure on the method
These problems are easier to avoid, than to fix by retraining, after problems arise. Perfect practice makes perfect performance. We’ll set your dog up for success and build a rock solid foundation for your partnership, from inception. Our training programs will build your relationship with your dog and strengthen your partnership. We’ll help you overcome training challenges as they arise, enabling you to enjoying your time together to the utmost. Part of our enjoyment of nosework, and hunting, is to show teams what they might achieve and to help each team become the best they can be.
It’s critically important to keep a realistic, balanced and positive perspective. Never forget that nosework is supposed to be fun! If you aren’t having fun, you must be doing something wrong. You need to stop training, figure out an effective clicker dog training strategy, get help if needed and adjust your plan accordingly.