Thursday, July 21, 2011

Medication Meltdown

Having a rescue dog is quite a journey, you never know how they will react to certain situations.  Last week I applied Fi's flea and tick medicine, which consisted of squeezing a tube of liquid down her spine.  She reacted by slinking around with her tail between her legs for the next 12 hours, and not letting me come near her.  Ah, yet another training opportunity.  These are the steps I will take to hopefully make the next experience better.

1. Make taking the tube of medicine out an exciting event.  Show her the tube and give her a treat. Repeat.
2. Touch the tube to her back
3. Move the applicator an inch up her back
4. Increase length of movement
5. Use an eye-dropper or similar applicator to add wetness to the process (go back to step 2 with the added wetness)

The video below is probably the 8th session of a few minutes each.  We have progressed to step 4.

Veterinary Disaster

This past week I took Fi to the vet for a check-up, as she previously had canine influenza and heartworm.  While there I found out that she does NOT like to have her temperature taken. Now, I'm aware that no dog (or human for that matter) likes to have a thermometer inserted in their rectum, but her reaction was over the top.  She ended up having to be restrained and muzzled. The day after the vet visit I began putting together a training plan to counter-condition her to remain calm while having her temperature taken. Click and treat for the following:

1. Touch base of tail lightly (add duration)
2. Wrap hand lightly around base of tail (add duration)
3. Lift tail ever so slightly (add height and duration to tail lift)
4. Gently touch cotton swab underneath the tail (add duration)
5. Gently touch cotton swab to anus (add duration)
6. Gently touch cold/wet cotton swab underneath the tail (add duration)
7. Gently touch cold/wet cotton swab to anus (add duration)

Make sure to only click if the dog remains calm during these steps. If the dog reacts or shies away, it just means you went too fast. Simply go back to where you know the dog will be successful. This may be easier if you have a dog that always holds their tail high, but my dog's tail hangs pretty low when relaxed. Also, be sure to click while your hand is still touching the tail, otherwise they are being rewarded for you letting go of their tail.

I will then repeat these steps in the vets office, with my husband doing it, with the vet assistant doing it, etc.  Obviously the thermometer will eventually have to be inserted, but I don't feel comfortable doing that on my own, so I will have to work with my vet.

The video below is of step 4 and 5.  This is our 5th session of only a couple minutes.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Clicker

What does the clicker do?

A clicker is simply an event marker (also called a bridge).  The trainer uses classical conditioning (think Pavlov's dog experiment) to associate the click with a reward. The click can then be used to mark the exact moment a desirable behavior occurs, bridging the gap between behavior and reward.  This is where operant conditioning steps in. The animal becomes the "operator", learning that their actions affect whether or not they will get a click, and therefor a reward.

Why does the clicker work?

Precision and timing are essential in dog training, and the clicker is the ultimate aid if used correctly.  With clicker training, you can teach complex behaviors by marking small movements in the right direction.  Using a clicker also bypasses the more complex parts of the dogs brain that are necessary to interpret our voice.  Also, unlike the voice, a clicker always sounds the same.  Dogs are able to pick up even the slightest inflections in our voice, be it frustration, fear, or fatigue, which can affect their willingness to learn.

How do I use the clicker?

First you need to charge the clicker. It is easiest to begin with the clicker in one hand and treats in the other (or in a treat pouch or pocket).  Click, wait half a second, then hand the dog a treat.  If you give the treat at the same time you click, the dog only learns that your hand coming toward them predicts the treat, not the click.  After 10 or so repetitions the dog should become visibly excited at the sound of the click.  If they do not alert to the click, the treats may not be reinforcing enough, try real meat or cheese! Once the dog understands the clicker, you can begin clicking when they offer desirable behaviors.


If you have a box clicker, you may want to mute it with a piece of poster tack or tape before using it. They tend to be pretty loud and you don't want to startle your dog.

If you don't have a clicker you can use the lid off a drink bottle that has the "pops up when open" top, or a clicky pen (if it's loud enough to hear clearly), or anything else that makes a short distinct sound.

You can find clickers in almost all pet stores, or order them online.

Use treats that are small and can be eaten quickly.  Ideal training sessions, especially when learning new behaviors, should have a rapid rate of reinforcement. If the treats are too big they slow down learning, and the dog will become full after only a few repetitions.

Remember to take the treats out of their daily food rations so as not to over-feed.

Friday, July 1, 2011


For my first post, it seems appropriate to give some background on my experience with dogs and training.  I am not a professional trainer, but I do believe that clicker training as a method (not simply using a clicker) is the most humane and clear way to communicate with your dog.

I have always loved dogs, and the training that goes along with owning one.  I taught my Sheltie everything he knows when I was only 10.  Until about 2 years ago, however, my training methods were mostly trial and error.  My life changed when I discovered the small community of clicker trainers on YouTube, who are some of the most kind and passionate people I've encountered.  I immediately connected with the method and began a quest to learn as much as possible. 

On a personal level I am writing this blog to learn patience, and hold myself accountable to the positive way of life I hope to live.  On a social level, I want to show through my journey that it IS possible to create a lifelong bond with your dog using entirely positive methods.