As I’ve mentioned on several occasions, Cooper has turned out to be quite the little handful. As much as we adore the stuffin’ out of him, we found ourselves at a loss when dealing with some of Cooper’s more complicated issues. Rather than hang our heads in defeat, we sought help. We enrolled Cooper in “Basic Family Dog Manners” class with Dogs and Kat – run by the extraordinary Kat Martin, who also happens to own See Spot Eat, the doggie bakery where we bought the cake for Oscar’s birthday.
Kat has been training dogs for over a decade, and has a passion for animal rescue. She works with Agape to offer canine education to foster dogs in their program at discounted rates. She knows that sometimes the difference in a dog getting adopted quickly and spending months upon months in “the system” is as simple as getting the dog a sense of basic obedience.
Kat’s classes based on clicker training. Clicker training is just good old-fashioned operant conditioning – when a good thing (reward) gets associated with a cue (click) after performing a behavior (sit, down, stay, etc). The idea is to get the dog to associate the click with a Very Good Thing, like a high value treat. For Cooper, we use teeny tiny (think tic tac size) pieces of cheese or natural chicken treats. There is a wealth of information out there on clicker training, so I’m not going to go into a lot specifics here, but I do want to highlight a few important points which we’ll be keeping in mind with Cooper:
1) The click creates a snapshot of the behavior. Timing of the click is imperative, even more important that the timing of the treat delivery. Think of the “click” as a snapshot of the behavior you want. For example, when teaching “sit,” you click as soon as the tush hits the floor, and then deliver the treat.
2) Click only to reinforce the behavior you want. Don’t click to get your dog to do a behavior, wait until you he offers the behavior before you click. If you are trying to get your dog’s attention when he is distracted by clicking, you are rewarding him not paying attention to you. Wait until he turns his head in your direction on his own before the click and treat. Eventually he will want to give you his attention, because he now knows that you are a magical treat factory!
3) Get the behavior first, then assign a name to it. Dogs do not speak English. If you are teaching a behavior for the first time, your dog does not understand what “sit” means. Kat teaches us hand signals for each behavior, which are designed to lure the dog into positions. For example, the signal for “sit” is holding a treat in the your hand and chest level, palm flat facing upwards, and raising your hand up in front of your chin. This simple raising of the treat naturally lures your dog into a seated position. Once he is seated, click and treat. Once he is consistently sitting for the hand signal, start adding the command “sit” as you do the hand signal.
4) Only say the command one time. Repeating a command only shows your dog that he doesn’t have to listen to you the first time. Say the command, and wait for the behavior. You may have to wait awhile at first, but eventually the time you have to wait will get shorter and shorter.
5) Keep it short, keep it positive, keep it consistent. Training sessions should be 5 – 15 minutes, three times a day is ideal! Always end with something your dog knows how to do well, so you end on a positive note. And consistency is key – if you click, pay up! The clicker will lose value if you do not deliver when promised. Eventually the click itself will become the reward, but at first when your dog is learning behavior, make sure to deliver a treat every time you click. Make sure you hand signals and voice commands are consistent as well, this is especially important if you’ve got more than one person that the dog will need to take commands from.
Cooper has attended two classes so far, and is responding well to the clicker. So far, Kat has taught us People techniques for teaching Cooper “sit,” down,” “let’s go” (or loose leash walking), “touch,” and “come.” Coop is about as food motivated as they come, so getting him to demonstrate the behaviors and reinforcing them has been a
snap click. What we’ll need to focus on next is asking Cooper to relax, and keep his attention on us instead of on the other dogs in the class.
If you’re interested in adopting Cooper, please fill out an application with Agape Animal Rescue.