So I’ve decided to use clicker training in order to preserve this dog’s creativity. Sage, of course, isn’t interested in my discussions of training theory. She’s much more intrigued by the practical applications. We started out tonight by avoiding the most common mistake clicker trainers–especially new ones–make: Teaching sit as the initial clicked behavior.
It’s not bad to teach sit, in fact, it’s almost compulsory. But the first few behaviors you teach with clicker training become the default behaviors for your dog when clicking, a fact that I was roundly criticized for by my younger sister because I taught a foster dog that she eventually adopted to back up as his first clicked behavior. She found it very aggravating when working with him years later because he would back up when he was frustrated.
So for Sage’s first behavior, I decided to teach her that she has a butt. More precisely, I decided to teach her that she could move her butt independently of her front end. It took ten click/treats total before she was moving her rear end three steps to the left. It took five additional c/t for her to move her rear end three steps to the right. Now, being that she’s a puppy and fairly new to the game (for all training should be in the spirit of a fun game), she hasn’t a conscious clue what she’s being reinforced for. That’s all right. We’ll get there in time so there’s no rush to put this on command right now. Tomorrow, we’ll work on a different behavior.
Yesterday, Sage watched me play fetch with Lacey and Missy. Last night, she brought me a tennis ball. I tossed it for her and she retrieved it, not once but several times. Perhaps her previous family played fetch with her but I think it’s much more likely that she learned by watching the other dogs play. I’ve seen her pick up other behaviors by merely observing the older dogs (sitting at the back door to go out or come in, for example). I’ve had other dogs who learned by observing (example: Ricky the Papillon learned to open his crate by watching humans do it, there’s no other explanation.) It stands to reason. Dogs in the wild have to learn somehow and observing other dogs perform behaviors must be one of the ways. Trial and error can be very difficult to survive but watching some other dog try something and succeed or fail is much more life-sustaining.
So today I tried to teach her to tug. I’m wanting to be able to use tugging as a reinforcement while we are training. She didn’t seem all that interested in the game but we’ll keep working on it. I have the feeling her teeth may be bothering her so she might be more enthusiastic later on. Usually, pups go through teething at about 16 weeks (4 months) but she could be starting early. I’ll be happy to see those needle-sharp baby teeth go though it does mean she’s growing up.
One of the most important aspects of clicker training is that you need to plan out what you’re going to do in each session. That said, you also need to be flexible. For example, tonight with Sage I wanted to work on reinforcing her for being in “heel position.” She was so distracted by the fact that I was standing (apparently I’m only supposed to sit when she’s around) that I decided to work on the movable butt. Both are goals of mine so it wasn’t a hardship to switch out one goal for the other but it does demonstrate that flexibility in training is important.