Sneak peek: Cyberdog Online (clicker training course)
August 26, 2011 at 6:26 am
* Note: There are ANIMATED GIFS in this blog entry, which may or may not show up in a RSS feed or email subscription.
Two weeks ago I was invited to participate as a student and beta-tester in a brand new online Clicker Training course – Cyberdog Online – run by three Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partners: Sarah Owings, Helix Fairweather and Lynn Martin.
Karen Pryor is the animal behaviorist who wrote the very inspiring book: Reaching The Animal Mind and made Clicker Training (or Operant Conditioning) famous.
Perhaps the thing that is most appealing to me about Clicker Training is that it is a pressure-free (therefore very humane) method and philosophy of teaching and learning. It’s efficiency is not dependent on the trainer’s bossiness or physical strength. The emphasis is on clear communication and positive reinforcement using the clicker as a capturing/shaping and reinforcing tool.
*These classifications come from Gail T. Fisher’s book: The Thinking Dog, Crossover to Clicker Training.
A long time ago, I trained Boogie to Sit, Down, Stay, Shake Hands etc. using the Moulding and Luring methods. I remember pushing Boogie’s butt down to the floor to teach him to sit, and when this didn’t work, I successfully lured him into a sitting position by moving a tennis ball over his head. (He wasn’t a very food-motivated dog when I first adopted him). As his head followed the ball – “Sit!” – his butt plopped down on the floor and he was rewarded.
Even though I have used a clicker before to capture behavior (for example, clicking Good Choices in BAT), I am not confident using a clicker to teach new behaviors and cues … or rather, anything more complicated than Hand Targeting or a Head Turn.
On my own, I lose focus and patience. I worry about messing up. What I need is someone to tell me exactly what to do and to break the process down into baby steps for me… Which is exactly what this Cyberdog Online course offers!
In this course, not only is Boogie learning new stuff, I the human am also being trained.
The course consists of several learning modules (StartSmart, Attention and Focus, Communication, Teamwork, Self-Control etc.), a series of lessons within each module (eg, Name Game, Settle, Wait, Sit, Targeting, Polite Walking etc.) and 4 levels within each lesson, which are further broken down into Steps 1 – 4. There is a lot of information to take in, and lots of steps, yet because everything is so well-structured, the exercises are so clear, and the feedback is always very encouraging and helpful, I don’t feel intimidated. Everything feels do-able.
I loved the beginning StartSmart module, which focuses on mechanical clicker training skills: ‘home base’ position for your hand, working on focus and timing skills (eg, click bubbles bursting on your computer screen) and even treat delivery skills (practice tossing treats into a box, practice rolling individual treats out of your palm etc.). Most of these exercises don’t yet involve the dog. Tricky, because when Boogie sees me with a clicker and treats he wants to be in on the action.
Further on, students practice with their dogs. We take video footage of our training sessions, and upload these on the internet for class review. A “virtual classroom” that is. Seeing other students’ videos is really helpful.
Some notes from Week 1:
1. Treat delivery skills & “Quiet Hands”. Until I reviewed video footage of myself delivering treats I had no idea that my hands flailed around as much as they did or that my hand would instantly drift back into the treat bag when it should be quiet and at ‘Home Base’ before the next click.
2. New concept: “Click Points” refer to the exact behaviors that I am supposed to click in each training session. The challenge is to stick to this criteria and not click for anything else. This is harder than it sounds because I get impatient! Or I get so distracted by Boogie’s cuteness (doing some other non-click-point behavior) and I lose track. The challenge for me is to WAIT for Boogie to offer the behavior by himself instead of helping…
3. New concept: “Tag Points”. Where Click Points are for the dog, Tag Points are for the student trainer. These are specific behaviors that I have to do fluently.
4. “Success Rate”. How do I know when to move onto the next Level?
According to Helix – I judge success by how quickly and frequently Boogie is getting clicked and treated. I could also calculate my rate of reinforcement…
I watch my training session video – note the start and end times from the first click to the last click. Total number of seconds / total number of clicks = Rate of Reinforcement. So for example, where there are 26 clicks in 120 seconds, that’s an average rate of 4.6 seconds per behavior/click/treat. A successful rate is 4 seconds per click, at which point I am ready to move onto the next level.
Below are examples of the clicker training lessons that I am doing with Boogie this week.
*Similar clicker lessons can already be found via dog training blogs/sites, YouTube videos and books, so I have decided to do something different and present these as animated drawings. Note: these are my own interpretations of the Cyberdog Online lessons. The animations are not part of the course.
Name Game lesson (Level 4).
… and Wait At Boundary ( Level 1).
In Level 2 of the BOUNDARY lesson (my homework for this week), my new Tag Point is to stop tapping the line and click when Boogie slows down/shows hesitation before he approaches the line. Eventually a verbal cue (eg, “Wait”) will be added. I am hoping that this cue when learned, will have Boogie waiting politely when someone comes to the door….
That’s it for now! This Cyberdog Online course is still in beta-testing phase, so I can’t give too much away.
Currently reading: How Dogs Learn by John S. Bailey, which is fascinating.
*UPDATE* – The Cyberdog Online course is now up and running! http://cyberdogonline.com/
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