Lollipops & Dog Training, Where the Two Meet

It comes as a big surprise to our clients when we ask them not to talk to their dog during a training exercise.  Believe it or not, dogs don’t come with an English software package installed.  We have to teach them our language.  Oh certainly, they easily learn our body cues (even when we don’t intend for them to), but learning our speaking language?  That’s another story.

Indeed, we babble to our beloved furry friends throughout our days.  The tone of our voice, coupled with our subtle facial expressions and body movements gives them a good idea of the meaning behind our words, but constant talking to our dogs, especially when we’re attempting to teach them a specific behavior or chain of behaviors only adds to confusion during the learning process. So we ask clients not to talk when they’re training their dogs, except of course for praise after the specific exercise.

Because we use clicker training, the dog learns that the sound of the “click” is what tells them they got it right and reinforcement for the successful exercise brings about their pay check….a yummy piece of food.  So, we use the sound of the “click” as our communication tool during an exercise and then verbal praise after the click/treat.  Until we’ve shown our dogs what it is we want them to do, there’s no need to add the cue (the word we eventually attach to a specific behavior, such as “down”). Once I’ve shown the dog the body movement of what I want him to do, then and only then should I add the verbal cue.

Let’s use “down” as an example.  With the dog in a sitting position, I take a piece of food, place it right at the dog’s nose and very slowly lower my hand in a straight line from the dog’s nose to his paws (this is called using a food lure or luring).  The dog will usually easily follow the food toward the floor and when the dog’s elbows touch the floor, I “click” and then deliver the food to the dog’s mouth.  I repeat this 6 to 8 times (or more if necessary).  If the dog is successful each time, then it’s time to add the cue to the behavior.  In this example, the cue is “down.”  I would say “down,” pause for a second, then lure the dog into the down position, then click/treat.  Over time you can gradually fade your food lure and before long the dog learns what the word “down” means.  Yay, he’s learning English!

The hardest part for the human end of the leash is not speaking.  When I’m trying to learn something new and am concentrating on the intended task at hand, having someone in front of me babbling or speaking sternly to me  because I’m not grasping it quickly enough, does nothing but frustrate me and add stress to the learning process.  Because we also enjoy using positive reinforcement to help our client’s learn, there are only so many ways I can ask them to stay quiet.

That’s where the lollipop comes in.  If it’s just too challenging for a client NOT to talk, then a tasty lollipop is an easy and fun way to insure no talking (yes, it’s hard to talk if you have a lollipop in your mouth) in order to set the dog up for learning success.  If the dog is successful, then the client is happy.

We’re all about having fun and enjoying success for both ends of the leash at Cold Nose College.  Happy Training!

 

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