Day 1   Charging the Clicker for Nala

This is Nala's first visit for training.  She will be boarding with me for the next week during which time we will be training up some behaviors and putting them on cue.  That all starts with conditioning Nala to understand that whenever she hears a click, a treat will be forthcoming.  This is called "charging the clicker" and is an essential prerequisite to success with Clicker Training.

Next up will be hand targeting and mat training, two easy and essential foundational tools which will be used to train many behaviors in the future.

Notice that each time Nala enjoys a treat, at the very moment her taste buds are sensing the flavor, I say either "good dog" or "nice".  This is some very clever conditioning.  For every 20 or so times Nala hears these phrases while paired with treats, I can use the phrases by themselves 5 or 6 times, without any treats, and get the same dopamine "hit" which the treat normally provides.  The phrase becomes conditioned reinforcement when paired with the primary reinforcement of food over many trials.  This is important when you want to reinforce specific behavior but no treats are available at the time, or the circumstances would make treating inappropriate.



Day Two   Hand Targeting and the Target Stick

Day Two for Nala involves the acquisition of targeting behaviors, both hand targeting, and a target stick.  Both are invaluable for the purpose of positioning your dog where you like for other behaviors (mat training, platform training, crate training, etc.).  Dogs tend to take to these behaviors rather quickly so they make great beginning behaviors for pet parents to master.
Nala was quite afraid of the initial introduction of the target stick so Scrap E. Duex comes in for the assist.  Dogs are social animals and they can learn many behaviors by watching their peers.  Once Scrap E. demonstrates how easy and rewarding the target stick is, Nala picks it up almost immediately.



Day 3   Nala learns to target the mat

Day Three for Nala is all about targeting the mat.  Mat training is a very important foundational skill for any animal training since it allows us to position the dog wherever we put the mat, no fuss, no muss.  You can see around the 1:40 mark that the target stick (yesterday's subject matter) is implemented in order to lure Nala into position, where upon she is immediately clicked and treated.  You should realize the increasing value of the target stick and mat as more and more reinforcement occurs during their use.
In this breakfast meeting, the focus is on getting the behavior (on the mat), not the ultimate goal of assigning the behavior a cue.  Once the behavior is repeatedly perfect, I will then, and only then, begin to name the behavior (could be later today, could be several days from now).  For that step, I will be clicking at the same exact time as I utter the cue, perhaps "get on your mat." 

Even though I am initially making the clicking noise with my mouth, when the behavior is as I wish it to be, I will switch to the clicker so I can simultaneously mark the desired behavior along side the verbal utterance of the cue.  At that time, I won't be asking for the behavior, since it will be on a loop and therefore already occurring.  I will merely be labeling the behavior with the chosen cue so that Nala can understand that the behavior and the cue are paired.  After a dozen or so trials of getting the behavior and labeling same, I will then be in a position to ask for the behavior by its named cue.  That is the science animal training in a nutshell!

Good job Nala!



Nala advancing on the mat, sit, down

Nala is beginning to exhibit some real understanding regarding the mat in the first part of this video.  The second part is her first exposure to sit and down behaviors.  By the end of the session, she is definitely starting to get it.

More to come.



Nala gets 'Blue Dot' on a loop

Here Nala enjoys dinner while learning a totally new behavior.  She has not seen the blue dot before its introduction in this video.  The video is uncut to illustrate that not much is really going on at first.  No problem.  I wait...patiently.  I wait until a clickable moment occurs (in this case, two feet on the dot) at which point in time I click and treat. Although it takes a while to get going, once she realizes that it is she who controls the click, with her behavior, she delivers every time.

This behavior of repeating the previously clicked and rewarded behavior is called a training loop.  Notice that I do not give this behavior a cue until after she is reliably repeating the behavior (the loop).  Once the loop begins, I do not ask her to do the behavior by uttering the cue.  I don't have to ask her to do the behavior as she is already doing it, thus the loop.  What I am doing each and every time I utter "Blue Dot" is labeling the behavior she is doing so as to inform her what the cue will be in the future.  As she is putting two feet on the blue dot, I say "Blue Dot" while clicking and then treating.  I am literally teaching her a word (or phrase).  Later, I will be able to utter the cue "Blue Dot" and she will perform the behavior associated with that cue (two feet on the blue dot).

Once the behavior is on cue in this room, it will have to be proofed.  This is the process of enhancing the reliability of the cue by re-teaching it in the kitchen, then the bedroom, then the hallway, then the porch, etc.  Just because she understands how to do this behavior on the carpet next to the coffee table does not mean she will at all understand the same cue on the hard wood floor next to the fridge.  It will have to be re-taught in several other locations before it can be generalized and well understood in any location.

By the same token, just because she understands the cue as spoken by me, with my particular mannerisms, does not mean she will at all understand the same cue spoken by anyone else.  Her owners will have to re-teach the behavior which I have already taught if the cue is going to work for each of them.  Granted, this will be easier because it is more of a review than it is starting from scratch, but the work will have to be done by each party who wishes to have the cue work reliably for them.

Sorry about the length of this video and its description, but I wanted to convey the real-world patience which is required to get an initial behavior occurring on a loop.  We are getting into the nuts and bolts of it now, and I though a thorough description was warranted.  We will start adding the three D's (duration, distraction, and distance) to proof those behaviors which we want to be highly reliably in all (or most) circumstances.

Nala is proving to be a very fine subject indeed.  Notice that I genuinely don't care what she does.  I never say no, or express frustration or impatience to her.  If she does what I want, I click and treat.  If she does not, I do not.  It really boils down to that.  If I were telling her no, or forcing her to do what I wanted (by picking her up and putting her on the dot, for example) I would actually be delaying the process.  However long it takes, it is imperative that Nala do the work so that she can get it.



Nala works the Yellow Dot

Nala continuing her mat training work.  Here she is learning to move from one mat to the other on cue.



Nala demontrates Off, Going to her Bed, Targeting, and Release

Nala wants to jump up on me for attention.  That is perfectly reasonable, but notice in the first minute of this two minute video how jumping simply doesn't work to get attention.  While Nala is jumping, I remain still and silent.  Only when Nala's feet hit the floor do I instantly say "Yes!" and pet her up they way she wants.  When she jumps up on me again, I go silent again.  When all four feet are on the floor, I respond with just the reaction she is wanting...a very well times "Yes" and the attention she craves.  She is quickly learning what works to get attention and "dogs do what works!"

In the second half of this very short video there is a lot going on:  1) I use the target mat to instantly get Nala in position (on the bed) which is then reinforced; 2) when I turn around and she leaves her position, I use hand targeting to get her back into position, again reinforcing her; 3) I ask her for a sit and she complies, getting reinforced again; and 4) I ask her to wait for a few seconds until I say "Release!" and she is reinforced for doing so.

You can clearly see that we have developed a repertoire here which is being utilized to teach a variety of lessons in just a minute or two.  She is becoming less nervous and more excited to learn new things.  What a good pup!


The End


YouTube Channel: