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FAQs

What is Positive Reinforcement Training?

What is Clicker Training?

Other Commonly Asked Questions

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Eight Common Misconceptions About Clicker Training / Positive Reinforcement Training

 

What is Positive Reinforcement Training?

One of the most common misconceptions about positive training is that all we do is throw cookies around and hope for the behavior to miraculously happen! This couldn't be farther from the truth. What I am actually doing is manipulating the consequences for the animal to get the kinds of behaviors I want.

My training applies the same kinds of positive motivation techniques on dogs that are used for training dolphins, sea lions, sea otters and killer whales. As you can imagine, try physical or verbal compulsion on a killer whale ("No, no! Bad whale!") and you just might end up as lunch!

Behavior is reward driven. Dogs do what works. If lying on their backs, sneezing and wagging their tails while in the bathtub got them reinforced, they would do it!

Positive training can be utilized to overcome many fears or aggression and to help your dog reach his full potential. I stress building a positive reinforcement history with your dog, proper management skills (if your dog gets into the garbage, get one with a locking lid!) and various techniques to get the kinds of behaviors you want without resorting to compulsion, coercion or punishment.

Although I have a standard lesson plan, I work with each individual, based on their specific needs.


What is Clicker Training?

ShadowClicker training is one facet of positive training that uses a marker signal (also called a secondary reinforcer or bridge) to tell the dog that he did something right.

Training using a secondary reinforcer was invented more than 70 years ago by B.F. Skinner (1904-1990). Keller Breland and Marian Breland Baily (a student of Skinner’s) first coined the phrase “bridging stimulus,” which later changed to just “bridge."

Bridges have been used with marine mammals since the 1950s and although marine mammal trainers use a whistle instead of a clicker to mark the correct behavior, the principle is the same. Click what you like, reward it, and ignore what you don't want. The clicker imparts valuable precise information from you to the dog, something that is lacking in traditional types of training. No more punishment, no more drilling, no more blaming the dog for not doing something that we didn't take the time to truly teach.

Clicker training is all about a change of mental attitude. Clicker trainers have learned to use their brains to train specific behaviors, rather than using pain to elicit those same behaviors. The result? Happier dogs, happier trainers, better relationships, less behavioral problems.

I use clicker training for basic obedience through competition obedience, as well as teaching the behaviors needed in the breed ring and with aggression issues.


Commonly Asked Questions

  • What if I have trained elsewhere – do I have to start in Beginners? Many of you may have trained elsewhere and then want to come into the upper levels of my classes. While I would like to accommodate you, I have found that doing so causes frustration on both sides because not all beginner classes are the same. What you learned in the “other” place may not be up to the same level that we teach here at PMDT. To be honest I have tried it a few times and have seen that the dogs are truly not up to the same standard if you will and owners and dogs are lost. In the upper levels I do NOT repeat what is taught in Beginners. So you are really missing out on some important information. So, please, even if you have trained elsewhere, if you come to me, you will have to start in my beginners class. I promise you will NOT be bored and you and your dog WILL learn new stuff and new ways of looking at things.

  • My dog already has some experience with XYZ training. What class should I enroll in? In my classes, there is a great deal more happening than the usual sit-down-stay-come. I talk about learning theory, redirected aggression, Premack principle, the work of Turid Rugaas, etc., etc., only in puppy k and beginners classes. To make the transition from other training methods as easy as possible (for you and your dog), I would recommend that you come to a beginners class before moving on to the more advanced classes. That way we are all on the same page in terms of positive training and group knowledge.

  • What "tools" are used in positive training? Plain flat buckle collars or harnesses (see the links page for Pam's favorite picks), regular leashes, tons of food, praise, toys, games, petting and of course, YOUR ever increasing knowledge about how dogs learn and how punishment can create a whole host of unwanted behaviors and how to build a positive relationship with your furry friend.

  • What "tools" are not used in positive training? Prong collars, choke collars, electric shock collars, head halters, yanking, pulling, helicoptering, yelling (yes, even yelling "NO" is not allowed), screaming, hitting, kicking, shake cans with pennies in them, spray bottles, etc.

  • Do I offer group instruction? I offer group, private and semi private instruction. Groups have no more than 6 dogs.

  • How many lessons are there in a course? There are 6 weeks of lessons. For beginners, the first class is without the dogs (with the first hour dedicated to a discussion on how dogs learn, positive principles and the pitfalls of using punishment) and the remaining 5 weeks are with the dogs.

  • How does food training work? "If I use food to train, won't my dog only work for food?" First of all, I do not use only food to reward desired behaviors. I use petting, praise, play and attention in addition to food. I teach you how to be variable and unpredictable and how to be a slot machine! Think about it - slot machines are all programmed with variable type and variable schedule of reinforcements - you don't win every time and the amounts differ as well, but we all sit there for hours at a time in hopes of winning the "big one!"

  • What is taught during these lessons? See my complete class list!

  • How much time per day do I need to practice? Positive methods are perfect for the person that does not have a great deal of time. You are shaping and molding your furry friend every time you interact with him. Whether you are feeding him his dinner, going for a walk or playing with him, these are all opportunities for you to train during your normal daily routine.

  • How old must my dog be? For Puppy K - 8 to 16 weeks. For beginners - 16 weeks and up. For some smaller breed puppies, they can be older for Puppy K, but please don't delay - VALUABLE learning time is lost if you wait longer.

  • When do classes meet? See my monthly calendar for a complete schedule!

  • Can families participate? Yes! I encourage all family members to come to class and to practice at home. The more consistent the training is, the quicker the dog will learn.

  • Where do classes meet? Private and group lessons are held in my new state-of-the-art facility in Washington, New Jersey.

  • Do you offer Boarded Training? NO! It makes more sense for your dog to build a positive relationship with you, not with someone else.

  • What is Specialization? Any dog with any problem. If I can't help you, I have a large referral base, so we can find someone who can.


Other services available:

  • Ring Rentals (students only)
  • Building Rentals (heated, air conditioned and fully matted)
  • Match Shows
  • Puppy K (when available)
  • Puppy Playtime (when available)
  • Beginner Freestyle!!! (private and group)


Eight of the Most Common Misconceptions Regarding Positive & Clicker Training

You are sure to hear these from your friends or other dog trainers. I have provided my favorite and simple responses.

  1. The clicker is a fad or gimmick. Actually, using a conditioned reinforcer (such as a clicker) is a training method based on sound, scientifically proven psychological principles. Extensive research has been conducted on the effectiveness of conditioned reinforcers in training.

  2. The scientific principles behind clicker training are too difficult for the average person to learn and understand. This is absolutely not true. While there is a lot of technical information, many people have learned to use it in training, just by following my instructions. If you want to know more about Operant Conditioning (OC), I can refer you to supplementary books that I highly recommend.

  3. Training using positive reinforcement takes much longer than traditional punishment based training. In the beginning stages, it may seem to take longer. However, once you and your dog catch on, clicker training leads to much faster results. Dogs very quickly learn to perform the desired behaviors in order to make you click! In addition, behaviors learned through operant conditioning and associative learning tend to stay with the dog for the rest of his life.

  4. In training, a dog should never be given a choice. Clicker trainers believe that they can set up the situation so that their dogs make the desired choices. Dogs always have behavioral choices, even when trained with punishment. To think they do not is an illusion that many correction based trainers cling to.

  5. Clicker training is too difficult because you must always have the clicker with you. While most clicker trainers would probably admit to having clickers stashed everywhere, they are not necessary every time you work with your dog. Clickers are most important in the learning stages of training. They can be phased out once the behavior is well learned.

  6. Clicker trained dogs won’t work without food. Again, in the beginning stages of training, food is used liberally. However, a good clicker trainer learns how to go from continuous to variable schedules of reinforcement and to learn to use other types of reinforcers (see item #14 above under the homework section)

  7. Behaviors taught using the clicker aren’t as reliable as behaviors taught using force. While the desire to avoid pain is strong, the desire to gain pleasant consequences is stronger. Think about the last time you got a speeding ticket – did it stop you from speeding? Much of your dog’s behavior is based on habit. Once a dog has learned something (good or bad) it tends to repeat that behavior over and over. Behaviors learned through force tend to fall apart when the dog is under stress. Behaviors learned in pleasant circumstances and positive consequences will be less likely to fall apart under pressure.

  8. Clicker training won’t work for behavior problems like barking or aggression. Dogs trained using a clicker can be taught alternate behaviors to replace the unwanted ones. Trainers using OC principles often devise very creative ways to change undesirable behaviors. I have personally used a clicker to solve a number of serious behavior and aggression problems.