Let’s start by looking at this question from a totally different angle:
Think about the act of training LESS as “do what I say” and MORE as “explaining to a good friend what you need done”.
- No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, dogs do not really understand human speech. Their own communications system is based primarily on scent and body language, not vocalizations. They understand posture and patterns of movement when we make “that sound”, and the places we usually do these actions; but it is as difficult for them deduce the meaning of a spoken command as it would be for an average American to understand Swahili.
- So how can we possibly communicate with such an entity? By building a shared language one “word” at a time. And the first word is “click”. The clean, intonation-free sound “click” is immediately followed by something the dog loves – a treat, a ball, a tuggy. Very quickly the dog realizes that “click” means “Woo hoo! Good thing coming!” Then by clicking exactly as the dog does something the trainer likes (say, going into a sit position) the trainer marks/tags that behavior with a click as something the dog can do to get a reward (marker-based training). The dog can choose or not choose to do that behavior – there is no punishment if it doesn’t. But the odds are very very great that the dog will want to continue this marvelous game in which he can get treats just by sitting.
- There’s nothing magic about the clicker itself – it is just a convenient, inexpensive device that is readily available and easily manipulated by child-sized hands. The audible marker used to tag the behavior we want to encourage just needs to be uniform, no matter who is delivering it, and quickly and easily produced.
- The effectiveness of clicker-training is based on the trainer’s ability to build a trust relationship with the trainee, working in a training environment that is free of fear. There is no room for lies, punishment, threat/dominance displays. What we humans are calling “training” is, for the dog, a fabulous game to which they return joyfully (“the little dog laughs!”).
What about “The Dog Whisperer” Cesar Milan? Is clicker-training like that?
No. In fact, quite the opposite.
This sounds easy! Will the kids be actual dog trainers after the class?
No, that takes more time than we typically have with a child. We are confining our focus to the portion of training that best supports the goals of behavioral therapists – the “ah ha!” moment when the dog and the child start communicating without words, without coercion. Referencing the STAR Training Guidelines given to older students (CLICK HERE to open a copy in a new browser window), elementary school children will actively work in Zone 1. For older students, or as appropriate to illustrate a point, the children will dip into Zone 2 and Zone 3 behaviors so they have a clearer view of how the dog will progress.