Lever pressing ... contd,

When my dog understands that the sound of my clicker means he has earned a treat, he needs to learn how to make the clicker work. No I do not mean he should pick it up and press it himself! He must learn that certain actions make the clicker work. I usually start with; stand, sit and down and a basic hand target. Remember the aim is to get the desired behaviour and click it as it happens: then of course you beak off and reward the dog. Teaching your dog a hand target will enable him to learn how to operate a clicker: It is a lever pressing exercise. When he touches your hand with his nose the clicker sounds, and then of course he gets a treat. Simple! Teaching a basic hand target brings many skills to both you and your dog which will enable you to use clicker training to full advantage in other exercises. He will learn that his actions cause the clicker to work. You will have many opportunities to hone your timing skills with the clicker, the dog will learn that sometimes he has to move away from the food to earn it, and later he will learn to continue, or maintain a behaviour until the click happens- he will have to keep his nose on the leaver until the clicker sounds. Before attempting to teach my dog anything I always consider my two rules of dog training:

Anne Bussey’s Two Rules of Dog Training:

  • Make it easy for the dog to get it right
  • Provide sufficient reward

The second criteria is easy for this exercise, it is not as though we are teaching a pet dog to come away from other dogs in the park. Many pet dogs are taught to ignore their owner’s call because they have learnt they will have their lead attached and be dragged home to be left alone all day! We can select our time and place so there are no distractions to work against and your dog is hungry. Maybe your kitchen just before feeding, so a piece of kibble, or cheese, or sausage should be sufficient reward in this environment at this time. So all we have to do is make it easy for the dog to get it right – we have to get him to put his nose on our hand so that we can click him for doing it. If you have a pocketful of prepared titbits and you bring one out of your pocket, your dog will naturally come and take it. Do this again but this time cover the titbit with your thumb so he cannot see the treat, click as he sniffs your hand and then release the treat. Repeat this action many times. Your dog will expect a treat when he sees your hand coming out of your titbit pocket but we don’t want to have to put our hand into a pocket every- time, we need to fade that cue. To start teaching this, just raise your hand to the general area of your pocket and then hold it out as before with thumb over palm hiding the treat. Help him by looking at your own hand (it is very easy to distract your dog from this exercise by looking at his eyes) dogs often get locked into eye contact with their owner and don’t notice that the hand target is on offer. Make it very obvious that your hand is the target by directing your gaze at it and then click as soon as he touches it. Your aim is to reduce the signal of the hand coming out of your pocket and get the dog to touch your hand simply by offering your hand with your thumb across your palm; you are using your gaze to help direct him to your hand. Many owners try so hard in this exercise that they unintentionally move their hand towards their dog and some even put their hand on the dog’s nose. This of course will have the opposite effect to what we are trying to teach: imagine if someone keeps shoving their hand towards your face – you will back away to avoid being bumped on the nose! So keep an eye on your hand to check it does not travel towards your dog. The idea is to tease the dog, to encourage him to touch you – not vice versa. When he does touch your hand it should be pleasant for him. Ensure your hand is soft and welcoming- not rigid with the effect of him hitting a brick wall. Repeat this action many times. Remember to get your timing right; click the touch and after you have clicked (not simultaneously), release the treat from under your thumb. When your dog becomes familiar with this routine progress to not always having a treat underneath the thumb. Keep your hand just the same so your dog cannot tell if you are hiding a treat or not, click him as usual for touching your hand and then place a treat into the target hand from your other hand to reward him (be prepared by having just one titbit in your clicker hand alongside the clicker). Progress in this way; sometimes you will have a treat hidden under your thumb, sometimes not. Every time he touches your hand to check it out, click the touch and then reward him after you have clicked the touch (either with the treat that is already under your thumb, or one that has been concealed alongside your clicker). Another common error to avoid at this stage is holding the clicker in sight. If the dog is presented with your right hand as the target and the clicker in your left hand he may be distracted by this, so put your clicker hand behind your back. (I tend to fall into jargon as I work with the clicker most days. I should say the hand holding your clicker- not “your clicker hand”. Your ‘clicker hand’ could imply that the clicker is always held in the same hand – it is not: you will swap the clicker for convenience depending on what you are trying to train -but I guess you worked that one out!). It is easy to confuse, or mislead people when writing instructions: who hasn’t had instructions for some ‘self assembly’ item that have lead you up the garden path?

Having avoided the pitfalls and by continually making it easy for the dog to get it right, before long your dog will soon understand the basics of a hand target. From here all you need to do is follow the process of clicker training as detailed last month and you will be able to progress to put the behaviour on cue, extend the duration and if necessary stop any licking or messing around. ‘Great,’ you might say, ‘but what is the point of the hand target?’ You can use a hand target for delivery of small articles and also to get the dog anywhere you want him. I also use it to teach heelwork which is another complex exercise that we will be covering at a later date after we have finished square training.

Anne Bussey