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3 Powerful Reasons – To Click or NOT to Click

Anyone who has attended my classes knows I am a devotee of the clicker; but perhaps they don’t know why.  I don’t “force” students to use a clicker and many opt to not.  But why do I so strongly advocate for this little tool when there are so many other things to juggle?

 

  1. It is an effective tool to bring a handlers awareness to the exact pinnacle of their dogs performance.  I use the term pinnacle because each time you entice your dog to perform a behavior (with or without a cue) there is a moment that is more ideal than any other for marking the behavior.  I call it the “closest approximation of the desired behavior”.  This ideal moment will vary depending upon your dogs ability, level of training, environmental challenges, and so forth.  But the clicker helps keep the human on their toes and watching carefully for the perfect time to click.
  2. The concussive nature of the noise makes a very profound impact on the animal being trained.  It is consistent, sharp, adequately loud, and unmistakable.  Your voice on the other hand, or any other noise you can make with your mouth, is not.
  3. It is a very reputable technique despite what its adversaries would claim.  People who come from other scent detection schools of thought often tell me that they are not allowed to use clickers.  Pish.  The notion that a clicker is not a “professional” animal training tool is ludicrous.  Trainers of everything from elephants to badgers use clickers.  Many a closed minded trainer will dismiss this effective and powerful tool, simply because they haven’t tried them, don’t understand their use, or are afraid to appear “gimicky”.  No really I just made that up.  I have no idea why they are put off by this tool and I honestly don’t care.  I focus on the positive here and I am positive that clickers are solid training tools for a variety of behaviors.

So that is really all I have to say about it.  You can Google the pro’s and con’s and make your2010_11_MileyElizabeth own decision, but after decades of training dogs and horses for SAR, scent detection, obedience and competition, I have seen MORE success and more rapid acquisition of new behaviors on command, when I used a clicker.

3 Times Assumptions Hurt

2011_01_OTF_ClaireCadenzAssumptions play a large part of scent detection training. When we put the scent in front of the dog, we assume the dog understands that they are acquiring the target scent. When practicing a blind problem (we don’t know the scent location) we assume the dog is on the target scent when they linger or return to a particular location. When the dog alerts we assume it is because the dog has acquired the target scent. Sometimes assumptions are helpful in expediting training, but lets examine problems that they can lead to.

In the first example, we place a new target scent in front of the dog and let the dog check it. While the dog is acquiring the target scent, how do we know that a connection is being made to the target scent and not the container, the medium or vehicle the scent is place in, the treat we accidently dropped on the container during the last reward, our scent or other contaminants?

We don’t. 2011_01_OTF_MarthaSailor

So how do we avoid confusion? Many, many, MANY repetitions of the same introduction to scent exercise with everything about the presentation changed with the exception of the target scent. With and without a container, in oil, in wax, in the raw, with latex gloves, with nitrile cloves, with food service gloves. Only then can we be certain that the scent the dog is acquiring is the scent we have set out for them to acquire.

In the second example, assuming you have completed all of the prerequisite foundation training properly, you are attempting a blind hide and your dog is showing an enthusiastic work ethic, but doesn’t seem to make any finds. At some point during the search your dog lingers in a particular area and you move a little closer to see what happens. Your dog looks at you, looks back at the spot that they are currently attracted to and performs a hesitant alert. You as a handler explode with excitement. “Show me!” you exclaim. “Show me!” And the dog alerts again with more enthusiasm. Congratulations, you have just elicited a false alert through your body language. I call it the “Mr. Ed” syndrome. But really I am referring to “Clever Hans“. Google it.

Your dog should NOT need to look to you for your approval if you are doing blind hides. You do not need to move closer, make eye contact, hold your breath or do anything to encourage an alert if you are moving to this stage of training. Your dog needs to be able to make that decision alone, without your input, or you have moved ahead too quickly.

2010_05_AmyVaqueroAnd when your dog finally alerts on his or her own cognizance, you assume it was as a result of acquiring the target scent. To test your theory, you will have a helper prepare a fresh scent sample that has not been handled by you, nor stored in your house. Your helper will prepare the scent with new gloves that have not been stored in your house. Place the scent amongst blanks as well as appropriate distraction scents. In the case of truffles, appropriate distractions might include deer scat, mouse scat, rotten mushrooms, sticks, etc. If your dog can still successfully identify the target scent, then congratulations, you are ready to take your skills to the field.