In order for conditioned reinforcers such as clickers to be of value to your training plan, your dog must learn that the sound of the clicker predicts the arrival of the reward. With proper pairing, your dog will have the same emotional response to the sound of the click as he does when you feed him a tasty treat. Creating this response is what is known as Classical Conditioning which Ivan Pavlov stumbled upon during his experiments on dogs. Conditioned reinforcers make it easier to improve your timing of reward. You can also be further from your dog while still reinforcing good behavior. In essence, it buys you time to get the reward to your dog!
CREATING CONDITIONED REINFORCERS
Conditioned reinforcers predict the arrival of primary reinforcers. This means that the click comes before the treat. It also means that the click must sound independently of any other visual or audible stimuli. This ensures that your dog is ‘listening’ for the sound of the click and not just watching for the treat.
Begin with your hands in a neutral position at your waist or behind your back. Click the clicker, THEN reach for the treat, THEN deliver it to the dog and return to your neutral position. Watch the following video to see an example of creating a conditioned reinforcer.
Did you notice in the video when the trainer self corrected? Daniel started to reach for the treat pouch before the click, caught himself, and returned his hand to the neutral position. This is a common mistake, even amongst seasoned training professionals. The click must predict the treat and if they come in the wrong order you and your dog will not benefit from the use of the clicker.
CHARGING THE MARKER
Line up 3-5 rows of 10 treats each. Set them within arms reach of a table or ledge. Set up your video camera to record, get your clicker, position yourself in frame with your dog, then begin in a neutral posture. Click once, and deliver the treat to your dog. Wait 3-4 seconds then click again and deliver the next treat. Repeat this until your entire 1st row has been depleted then ‘Take a Break’ by setting the clicker down and showing your dog your empty hands.
Wait for 20-30 seconds and repeat the previous routine. Finish all rows, waiting 20-30 seconds in between each one, then end the training session. Your dog may begin to show visible anticipation of food at the sound of the click right away. Or, they may take a few sessions. This is why it’s nice to see what your dog is doing on camera. You may notice things in review that you missed in real life. Get in the habit of recording your training sessions for your own benefit.
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