Well my Golden Wonder is a genius! He is ‘charged up’ on a clicker and he knows how to ‘press a lever’ to make me click.

Does it matter if he is more like a rag doll than a border collie? Does it matter if he is not into chasing a ball or playing tug? Ah well, time will tell, at the moment I have something to work with. Because he is greedy I have his undivided attention as soon as I pick up my clicker and a pot of food.

Training is such fun. I use a piece of food and lure him into a sit. He sits. I click and feed. I lure him into a down, click and feed. And then a stand, click and feed. We do spins to the left and spins to the right, then weaving through my legs. He keenly follows the lure to get his click and treat and before long he can do an impressive range of tricks.

When I am sure I can get a behaviour (sit or whatever) I precede the action with the ‘cue.’ The clicker jargon can be a little tedious but I guess the word ‘command’ is not technically correct in this context because the dog will not be made to follow the ‘command,’ he is simply given a ‘cue’  I looked up ‘cue’ and got;

‘something said or done that provides the signal for somebody, especially an actor or performer, to say or do something’

... ‘something that prompts or reminds somebody to do something.’

This is not the same as giving the command to sit and then up with the right hand (lead in right hand) and down with the left on the dog’s bottom to make it sit. Am I showing my age here? Well that’s how we did it when I first started dog training! The command was followed by the action. There was no choice!  Of course the dog was praised for doing it, but the difference is the command was enforced if the dog did not respond appropriately. With clicker training the dog is given the choice. I guess it is like saying if you sit now you may be rewarded. If you don’t no problem – no reward! The benefit I think with this type of training is that the dog learns to think for itself, there is no compulsion; there is no down side from the dog’s point of view - no pressure, so the dog keeps trying.

From the trainer’s point of view it does require some forethought; the dog must want the reward and the task must be doable. Planning is required to meet these two criteria as we progress to more complex behaviours. It is easy to lure a greedy puppy into a sit or down, but what about a retrieve for example. The secret is to break the exercise down into tiny achievable pieces. Remember the Golden Wonder is about nine weeks old and has no play drive and very little attention span. He has learnt to do a hand touch (target) and now I have begun to put a duration on this, (oops here we go again, more jargon) it means of course not to just press the lever (target) but to press and hold. This it taught by not clicking a touch, then clicking the second touch. You soon get a double touch and then the duration. We quickly learn to do this without much instruction when a toilet flush does not work properly, you try the double push and the hold, you often hear this happening from outside the Ladies loo when there is a queue! The Golden Wonder learnt duration in the same way. When I was sure he really knew that touching my hand made the clicker work, I sometimes did not click when he first touched it and just like you with the flush he tried again with a little more effort to make the thing work!  Bingo! Now he has learnt to persist in doing it.

Imagine if your flush at home suddenly stopped working altogether– you would give up and call the plumber, however if it worked most of the time and occasionally was difficult you would persist in trying to flush and maybe develop the knack that would make it work. Your toilet flush has shaped your behaviour! With careful training (not asking too much in case the Golden Wonder gives up) I can now gradually increase his duration, often going back to clicking the first touch to keep him keen - to stop him calling the plumber.

Now I know he is able to focus on the task in hand for more than one second and has begun to do basic problem solving I plan his retrieve training. This is very important because without a retrieve you cannot possibly do trials. There are four retrieves in CD (dumbbell and three from the search square) and seven in UD (dumbbell, four from the square and two off the track).

The dumbbell retrieve can be broken down into the following chunks;

1. Sit

2. Wait whilst dumbbell is thrown

3. Go to fetch

4. Pick up

5. Walk with the dumbbell

6. Return to handler

7. Present

8. Sit and hold

9. Release the dumbbell

10. Remain in present

11. Finish to heel

12. Sit wait.

Many of these chunks can be further broken down for improvement, for example; hold without mouthing, sit straight in the present, do not move if a judge walks close behind, come back quickly without deviating, etc, etc.

That is an awfully big task for any little dog.

The Golden Wonder can do a ‘sit,’ not at heel it is true, but hey! He will come to me when called (especially if he knows I have food and a clicker in my hand). Finish to heel? well there is plenty of time for the finer points, so I think I will begin by teaching my Golden Wonder number 4 on my list, the pick up.

He is still only very young and has not begun teething yet so it is a good time to get this important exercise started.

The dumbbell is rather tricky to start, so I begin with a retrieve cushion. (a technical piece of kit especially made for clicker training puppies to retrieve by jewellery manufacturers – if you buy one you always get a free watch or bangle!). anyway the retrieve cushion is soft and pleasant to pick up and it will require holding – that is it will not hook behind his canines if he sits there with his mouth open (as we were talking about toilets just now, a toilet roll centre filled with rolled newspaper would do the job) downside is it may roll if dropped and then may be perceived as a toy rather than a lever to work the clicker. Do not use a ball for this very reason.

Now I am organised with my hungry puppy, retrieve cushion, pot of titbits and clicker, all I have to do is entice him to pick him to pick it up to earn a click. Many puppies, especially those from working lines will pick up anything you place on the floor, but this is the Golden Wonder remember. I talk to the cushion as though it is a small animal and when my puppy looks curious I place it on the floor and quickly remove my hand to allow him to see my ‘new friend.’ He sniffs it and I click. Startled he looks up for his reward and after eating that looks back at the thing on the floor. Again as he pokes it with his nose I click and treat. Soon he gets the idea that this is actually a new lever with which to operate the clicker, but I want more than a touch I want him to pick it up. To up the anti after a few clicks for touching I snatch it up and dab it round the floor in front of him in a teasing cat and mouse type of way and then quickly remove my hand to allow him to ‘catch’ it. He picked it up in excitement and I clicked and gave him a jackpot.

Wow the beginnings of a retrieve!

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