Clicker-training Boogie

November 16, 2009 at 7:48 am 8 comments

After reading Karen Pryor’s  “Reaching the Animal Mind” (recommended!) which includes a chapter on how to “Hand-Target” with clicker training (here’s a description), I was compelled to try this out for myself . This afternoon I went to our local pet store and bought a clicker.

This blog post is more like a personal record of my observations and a memo to self,  so to whoever is reading this, note that I am a total newbie and I am open to reader tips. I am also reading books and articles on the subject, watching YouTube videos etc.

As I was trying to explain to Wes, it’s not as simple as making our dog do something for treats. This isn’t about bribery. It’s about “marking behavior” with the “clicks” in a communication system that isn’t even necessarily verbal. Trainers use this method to train lions, tigers, elephants, dolphins, iguana… where collars and leashes are irrelevant and the “pack leader” relationship is a non-issue.

Anyway, here we go. Just sharing my personal experience…

Our 1st clicker training session: Hand – Targeting

Session time: About 15-20 minutes

Step 1.Uber-tasty special treats: Before reading this book it never even occurred to me that I could divide a hot dog into 80 portions. I chopped up 2 hot dogs ( total of 160 treats!).


Step 2: In this “targeting” lesson I am to CLICK the split-second that Boogie touches his nose to my hand/fist.  We did this in several different locations: at my desk, on the couch, in the bedroom, in the bathroom.


I held my fist out to Boogie’s face. When his nose touched it, click and treat. I did this few times with my fist in front of his face… touch, click-n-treat. Then I moved my fist to one side, and the other side, and lower, and higher. C&T… C&T…Boogie became OBSESSED with the clicker. He sniffed my clicker hand and then he sat and couldn’t stop staring at it. It was amazing to me that he chose to stare at the clicker in my hand over staring at the bowl of hot dog pieces (as he normally would do) As if to say “Click,mom. Click. Go on, click again”

When I moved my fist too far away from his nose, he didn’t know what to do. He turned his head to one side, he got up, sat down again, looked at me…

In the book, they say this is normal. It’s a new game, an unfamiliar process and when a dog turns his head away he is unsure and “thinking things through”. That’s ok, we are supposed to wait and let him get used to the process.

So I moved my fist back in front of his nose (as the book says: go back to an earlier behavior if he doesn’t respond) and he touched it. Yay. Click-and-treat.

Eventually, Boogie clearly understood that he is supposed to touch my hand so I added the verbal cue “Touch” when holding out my fist… which confused him again. He sat still. Stared at my fist. Didn’t move. Whenever he didn’t respond, I shifted position slighty, lowered my fist, waited, then lifted my fist again and said “Touch”, and when he tentatively touched it with his nose, C&T! We did this several more times. Sometimes Boogie got so excited he even licked my fist. 🙂 Click and treat.

I wanted to practice reinforcing in different places. In a different location, if I held my fist in front of his face, he touched it with his nose … Click and treat. Yep, behavior retained.

But in a new location, if I held my fist too far away, he was confused again and didn’t respond. He wasn’t sure whether to get up from the “sit” position to reach my fist… I could see him hesitate.  If my fist was on the floor, he did a Down or bent down, but high positions were trickier. If my fist was right above his head, he didn’t respond… just remained sitting and stared at it. So I shifted my fist lower again… (backtracking) and then moved it a little bit higher and higher each time.  Boogie eventually got it, and he stood up on two hind legs to reach! Then sat again. He did this a few times… Pretty cool!

When I extended my arm to the left/right, he got up, walked left and right towards my fist to touch it! This was perhaps our biggest achievement of the day. The fact that Boogie got off his ass to DO SOMETHING was a sight to behold. This is a dog that can unblinkingly sit and beg for hours.

What I found funny –  Boogie stood up, kept turning his head to look at the bowl, then to my fist, then to the bowl, then to my fist again…  It was highly amusing to see Boogie’s thought processes in action. I stayed still… didn’t say anything. Waited. When Boogie finally turned away from the treat bowl and walked over to touch my fist, C&T! Double treats! Clever Boogie. We did this a few more times.

So one thing I learned – it is so important (and SO DIFFICULT)  to stay consistent with where and how I hold the clicker.

At one point I unconsciously moved the clicker away from view (behind me) and held out my fist. “Touch”. Boogie got confused, stood up, went to the window, walked around the apartment. I don’t know what he was thinking but obviously something had changed. Maybe he was searching for the clicker? When I moved the clicker back in front of me, he seemed more at ease and we were back on track.

I also made the mistake of being inconsistent with the verbal cue “Touch” – sometimes I said it, sometimes I didn’t…  I think this slowed Boogie down… like he had to “guess” harder. It was also really really hard for me to not want to praise him verbally. Many times when I clicked, I instinctively shouted out “Yes! Good Boy!” at the same time. Other times I clicked and didn’t say anything. If I am to establish the clicker sound as the “secondary reinforcer”, I guess I need to train myself to shut up. For now, anyway.

We ended this session when we ran out of treats. (TWO WHOLE HOT DOGS. Geez).

Memo to self: Shorter sessions. Less treats. Boogie was getting restless towards the end…

2nd session – 3 minutes
I wanted to show off to skeptical Wes when he got home. So I got out a few Zuke’s training treats and we went through the targeting routine again. Boogie was less cooperative because Wes was there and he was distracted. It was a bit like starting from scratch… I also did this standing up instead of sitting down so Boogie was slower to catch on. It’s interesting how all these body language details are so important. Dog training is really “People training” in disguise.

3rd session – 5 minutes
I wanted to click and treat “COME HERE”. This was a no-brainer because Boogie had seen the clicker in my hand and he had become 100% attentive. He didn’t even see the treats. He was fixated on the clicker.

Then I made a mistake. I threw a toy and said “Go Get It!” Boogie ran off after the toy and I clicked. He heard the click and suddenly stopped in his tracks…  He turned towards me wide-eyed as if to say – “Was that a clicker sound?” He didn’t know whether to come or to go…

So I threw the treat over to him and he spent ages trying to find it on the dark hardwood floor (Wes and I often joke that Boogie has a dysfunctional nose. He is very visual, for a dog). Then I worked on “Come Here”, stood up moved to different places around the apartment. Like I said, it was a no-brainer. “Mom has clicker and treats… of course I am going to follow her everywhere”.

We stopped when Wes said “Stop giving him treats. He has had two hot dogs today! He is going to get fat.”

Regardless, Boogie and I had another great little bonding experience. (Wes: “Yeah, Two hot dogs will do it”.)  Tomorrow we are going for a very very long walk to burn some calories.

Reading List and Links:

Getting Started With Clicker Training

Clicker Solutions – Articles

Dogmantics  (YouTube)

Clicker Carnival #1 and #2

If you are a clicker-training person, please feel free to comment and leave tips!

Entry filed under: Training.

Boogie vs The Mailman On Boogie’s “Dog aggression”

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mary H.  |  November 16, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Sounds like Boogie is doing excellently! Isn’t clicker training fun? It also sounds like both you and Boogie are starting to get the hang of it.

    Thanks so much for linking to the clicker carnival posts, I’m really glad that people are enjoying reading them. Have you discovered Sue Ailsby’s website yet? Her website has great instructions for teaching basic behaviors and does an excellent job of showing a clear progression from simple, basic behaviors to more complex behaviors:

    Also, here’s a great way to make hot dogs less slimy that I recently found that you might like.
    By the way, the site in the link above is a great one. Laurie Luck is an excellent trainer!

    Your experience with moving the clicker behind your back and Boogie getting confused is an interesting one. Dogs (and other animals) can become highly focused on something we might not even notice. Objects, body postures and body positions can become cues without us even realizing it. The presence of the clicker could have been signaling to Boogie that it was time to play the clicker game. Verbal cues are especially fascinating. Often we “teach” a verbal cue, but the dog is actually responding to a slight shift of our weight, a hand movement we don’t notice, or any other number of things. I’ve had this problem quite a few times with my dog, which I wrote a bit about here:

    “So I threw the treat over to him and he spent ages trying to find it on the dark hardwood floor”
    My dog does this too, sometimes. Sometimes, we have to train the dogs how to get or find the food. Effective food delivery can have a huge effect on training. This is one of my all time favorite youtube videos, from master dog trainer Kay Laurence. Notice two things, how effective her food delivery is, and how she actually uses food delivery to teach the mat work.

    Anyways, I really enjoyed reading about your experiences with Boogie. I hope you keep posting about some of your experiences with clicker training! And let me know if you have any questions! I mostly work with horses, but I enjoy learning about dog training as well, so I’m familiar with some of the better online resources for dog training.

    Also, I took a look at your website. Your artwork is wonderful! I especially liked the Boogie On Pakhale image.


    Mary H.

  • 2. lili  |  November 16, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    Wow, thanks for your long generous comment, Mary! I will definitely check out those links more thoroughly.

    So far we are still doing really really basic stuff like the hand-targeting behavior (we tried it again today and Boogie was excellent!) and getting him to look up at me (instead of at my hand).

    Re: hot dogs – this is an awesome link! I actually boil my hot dogs because I don’t have a microwave, and then I stick them in the fridge so they dry up and don’t stay so slimy. Would sticking them in a regular oven instead of microwave would do the trick too?

    Re: Verbal cues. I read your blog post and this is really interesting.I have always felt that Boogie responds to my body language and gestures and less likely to my words. I have noticed that if I say “Down” (this was a hard one to train), he only lies down if I point to the ground at the same time. Likewise with “Stay”, I have to hold my open palm out to him (like a Stop gesture) for him to understand me. He does respond to the verbal cue but it’s more foolproof if I add the gesture.

    However, interestingly my boyfriend Wes doesn’t use gestures, only words, and Boogie responds! What does this mean? That he understands the words but not when *I* say them? Should I reinforce my verbal cues without gestures?

    Re: The Mat Target video is awesome. I would never have thought of changing food delivery positions. (How do people think of these things?) 🙂

    I have started throwing the treat to the floor instead of delivering it to his mouth. This makes the whole exercise feel more like a game 🙂 I love that Boogie goes off to fetch the treat, then comes back to continue. Sometimes he gets distracted and goes off sniffing the floor probably wondering if he missed any more treats – ha.

    So I have one burning question… At what point do you know the cue will work without clicking-and-treating? How many variations (eg, different food delivery positions, different circumstances and locations) are needed or… how much time do you spend on clicker-reinforcing a behavior before it’s safe to assume the dog has learned it 100% and will offer the behavior without the click and treat?

    (I haven’t tested the hand-targeting without C&T yet…)

  • 3. fourleggedscholars  |  November 16, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Wow this was fun to look at! A whole Blog on Boogie 🙂 Way to go at Clicker Training!!!!! I am happy hear how well this went!!

    You are becoming a clicker pro!

    Go to Petsmart and get the Natural Balance Dog Food Log. This is cheap and makes a healthy treat even though it is actually a type of dog food 🙂

    Hand targeting is a blast and Karen Pryor is great! Have you read Don’t Shoot the Dog?

    Wondering about cross posting. It would be fun to share posts. Wondering if you would like to post some of my weekly tips on your blog.

    Also if you want to get an e-mail of my weekly tips you can subscribe on my homepage at

    Thanks again!
    Johanna with Four Legged Scholars 801-463-1668

    • 4. lili  |  November 17, 2009 at 6:33 pm

      Thanks, Johanna! What a coincidence – I got one of those Natural Balance logs yesterday. They’re great! Much easier to handle than hot dogs.

      No I haven’t read Don’t Shoot The Dog. Reaching the Animal Mind is the only Karen Pryor book that I have read.

      I will go check out your homepage…

  • 5. Eric Goebelbecker  |  November 17, 2009 at 1:01 am

    What a great write up! Boogie is doing wonderfully and it sounds like you are having a blast!

    I love your drawings, and they really added a lot to explaining what you did.

    Looking forward to more!

    • 6. lili  |  November 17, 2009 at 6:36 pm

      Thanks, Eric! I haven’t figured out what to do next… where to go from (1)basic hand-targeting and (2) getting his eye-contact/attention.

      I am glad the drawings help. I do this because it’s fun and also because some readers probably have no idea what I’m talking about 🙂

  • […] I am pleasantly surprised that she brings up this training activity because Boogie and I are already doing this!   See my blog post on Clicker Training Boogie. […]

  • 8. Boogie shakes hands « Boogie’s blog  |  January 15, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    […] far, I still think THE BEST THING we have accomplished with a clicker is  hand-targetting. Now when some random person sticks their hand out in front of his face, Boogie no longer shrinks […]


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