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Clicker training

Clicker training is a technique used to train animals (mostly pet dogs, but it can be used on many animals, and even humans). The general idea is to use the clicker as an indicator to tell the animal that it is doing something right.

Equipment

There are two things needed for clicker training, besides an animal to train: A clicker, and treats for the animal. Both of these can be obtained in a pet store, or online.

Getting started

Preparations

Before you can start clicker training an animal, make sure that the animal is not full or tired. The ideal state for an animal before clicker training is slightly hungry and alert. Also make sure that you do your clicker training in a friendly environment without too many distractions. A room in your house or flat, your garden or a non-crowded park should work just fine.

Also make sure that you have your clicker and treats ready. If you are using a battery-powered clicker, make sure the batteries are fresh. You should also practice with the clicker so that you know how to use it. Do this out-of-earshot from the animal you wish to clicker train.

First session

For your first clicker training session, start with a simple maneuver that you want to teach your animal. The trick “Sit” is a good start.

Start by just observing the animal and wait for it to perform the maneuver you want to teach it to do, e.g. wait for your dog to sit down on its own initiative. When the maneuver is performed, activate the clicker and give the animal a treat. You can also say something encouraging like “Good dog!” and pet the animal. After you have clicked and given your animal a treat, wait for it to perform the same maneuver again. When it does, activate the clicker and give a treat. Repeat this procedure for as long as your animal seems to keep an interest. Depending on your animal, your first session should last for a few minutes up to half an hour. During that time, your animal should perform the desired maneuver at least a handful of times.

If your animal seems to understand what it is you want it to do, you can end the session. If it's hard to get started, you may need to repeat the first session a few times. You can have a few sessions per day, but make sure that you let your animal rest and do other things between sessions.

Second session

For the second session, it's time to tech the animal a verbal and visual command. For the trick “Sit”, a downward motion with your right hand, and the word “Sit!” is a suitable verbal and visual command.

To teach the animal the verbal and visual command, start like you did in the first session, just observing the animal. But this time, when the animal performs the maneuver you want it to do, give the verbal and visual command and then activate the clicker, followed by a treat and possibly some petting and encouragement. Repeat this procedure (observer - command - click - treat) around ten times. You can then try to just give the command and see if the animal obeys by performing the desired maneuver. If the animal indeed performs the desired command, click and give a treat as usual. Try a few more times to make sure that the animal has learned to understand the command. If it still works, you have successfully used clicker training for the first time.

If the animal does not understand the command, restart session two and go back to observing. Don't repeat the command until the animal has performed the desired maneuver. You may need to repeat session two many times before your animal can learn to understand the command. As with session one, the second session should last for a few minutes up to half an hour, depending on the animal.

Moving forward

When you have successfully taught your animal its first maneuver, you can move on to teaching it something else. “Lie down”, “Reach up” and similar tricks are good maneuvers to do next. Start over from the first session for every new maneuver that you want to teach your animal. As your animal learns more maneuvers, the necessary time to learn a new trick is lessened. You could also try to do both teaching sessions in a row, but this does not always work, not even with well-trained animals.

Shaping

Some maneuvers you want to teach your animal can be quite complicated, and the animal might not do them spontaneously. Teach your animal a maneuver in a step-by-step fashion is called shaping. What you want to do is to observe the animal, just like in your first session. What you are looking for is something that could be a first step towards the desired maneuver. E.g. if you want to teach your dogs to stand on its from legs, you can wait for your dog to lean forward, or to lift one of its hind legs. Keep encouraging the desired steps by using the clicker and treats, but make sure to keep expecting the animal to do the next step in the maneuver. This kind of teaching may require several sessions, but it can also go quite fast, depending on your animal.

Shaping is also used to make sure that your animal performs the desired maneuver in a distinct, well-defined way. If your animal does not do the commanded maneuver the way you want it, don't use the clicker and offer no treat. Instead wait for a while and see if the animal performs the maneuver in a more distinct way. You may need to use a step-by-step method here as well.

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