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                         See #12, below

    Clicker Training FQA

Instead of an FAQ about Clicker Training, I would like to offer a slightly different perspective ... here are some Frequently Questioned Answers...

 1) Yes, you do have to use a clicker, in order to fully understand this method of training. A word does not work as well as a clicker for marking the correct behavior. Trust me, I've  done  both. People who suggest that abbreviated words work as well as a clicker simply haven't tried it. This does not mean that you use the clicker ONLY, or that you use it all the time.

2) No, it is not correct to use the clicker as a "keep going" signal. The clicker means "end  of behavior"The simplest solution is to use another signal as a "keep going" signal -- for instance, say "Keep going." <G>

 3) You do not have to give a treat every time you click -- but until your dog is more experienced, it is not a good idea to do it too often.

4 ) No, it is not a good idea to ellicit behavior with the clicker (or to shape illicit behaviors :)

5) Yes, you can teach classes with clickers -- they work better than non-clicker classes.

6) No, this isn't a form of marine mammal training -- the Brelands,  later Breland-Bailey, Ogden Lindsley, et al, did it all, long before Flipper  did his first tail stand.  (Actually, the Brelands were training dogs 10 years  before Keller "invented" marine mammal training in the mid-1950 's) Clicker training is far broader than any particular  "style" or "method".  It embraces the use of operant conditioning for any animal that is capable  of operant behavior.

7) No, your 30+ years of dog training experience will not automatically help you with this. On the contrary. The more you refuse to jump in and "drink deep" , the more problem you  will have with the nuances.

8 ) You will not learn anything substantive about clicker training unless you actually do it.  No explanation or answer to your questions is going to help you, if you aren't willing to put in the hours of training and observing. If you are trying to learn this method through  reading and thinking, you will become very frustrated --

9) Yes, there are limits to what you can do with a clicker -- but there are far less limitations  than there are with the traditional use of praise as a secondary reinforcer. On the other hand, EVERY tool has its limitations. People who tend to want "all or nothing" miss a big  opportunity -- knowledge is where you find it.

10) Yes, you can still use a choke chain if you want to. Using a clicker will not bar you from using aversives on your animal, if you choose to. It may give you a number of  reasons not to, however. Or, it may teach you how to decide when an aversive is justifiable.

11)If your dog is afraid of the clicker, it is invariably worth it to take the time necessary to  fix the problem.If a tiny little click will make your dog go belly up, you have a much bigger problem than "fear of clickers". The solution is to broaden your dog's repertoire and start  teaching for the sake of teaching. (Call it "learning, for the sake of mental health!")

12) A target stick is the best way to get a crossover dog to adjust to the new process.(See  the picture, above) . This was a quicky agility course, set up for Search and Rescue training by Dogs East. My dog, Megan is following a target stick through the course with  no problem. It took her exactly three trials to be able to do it with only my voice for guidance: once following the stick, once following my hand and once by voice -- and she  was 12 years old at the time.She had just completed the part of the obstacle that isn't in the picture - a set of 2x12's on a scaffold,  leading out to nothingness, about 8 feet off the ground. ) 

 13) You do have to obey the rules, but not "all of the rules, all of the time." There is a great temptation to try to "follow the rules" of clicker training. Above all, this type of operant  conditioning is dynamic. Each of the elements of learning may take a predominant position at any time -- when you break the rules, you are merely using your grandmother's favorite  butter knife as a screw driver -- not a good habit to get into, but it may be the right thing to do at the moment. Feel free to experiment and then analyze the results of your efforts --  that's the key to becoming a fine clicker trainer.Use the animal's behavior as the proof of the pudding and you will stay on course.

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