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Using click training to help dogs learn new tricks
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DEAR DIDI:  I would like to teach my dog some tricks. I read something about clicker training. Is that good to use when teaching tricks?  Dog Fun in Lathrop, CA

DEAR DOG FUN:  Congratulations on deciding to teach your canine some tricks! There are people out there that believe tricks are silly stunts but what they really do is provide a great bonding experience between owner and pooch.  It is fun teamwork trying communicate and interact together to achieve a goal. Tricks are also something that Therapy Dog teams actively employ to help bring smiles to patients at hospitals. I am all in favor of spending more time with our dogs!

Dog training has made huge strides in the last decade. We now know more about how our dogs perceive our movements, voice commands and corrections. What we used to believe was ‘defiance’ or ‘being stubborn’ we now believe is genuine miscommunication. The poor dog actually did not understand fully what was being asked of him and therefore failed to perform.

Marker training is a method used by animal trainers to communicate more efficiently with the animal they are training, whether it be a dog, a dolphin or an elephant.  When performed correctly, dogs learn quickly and retain the behavior more reliably in the future. Clicker training is a form of marker training. It basically involves conditioning a dog that a sound (in this case the ‘click’) means, “you did something super and you are going to get a reward for it”.  For more complicated tricks the clicker can be very effective as long as the trainer doesn’t need both hands to teach the trick. The key here is to have a consistent sound both in tone and intensity and teach the dog that the sound is meaningful. The sound then becomes a reward all on its own.

Almost everyone is familiar with the standard ‘shake’ tricks but there are so many other things you can teach your dog. You can find terrific videos on the internet of dogs running agility courses or performing freestyle routines. Clicker training plays a large role in teaching both of those sports. Here is a short, fun list of easy tricks to pick from, but remember, some tricks can backfire on you. If you teach your dog to open the refrigerator and bring you a beer don’t get mad when he helps himself while you are out of the house!

They are shake, bang! you’re dead., put your toys away, say your prayers, spin, roll over. figure eight, peek a boo, high five, speak, fetch, drop it, take it, dance, take a bow, search, doggy volleyball, Frisbee, tug of war, tunnel, jump, night night, and sit pretty.

There are books available or contact a qualified Canine Behaviorist or Trainer to help you learn about Marker Training. Once you have the concept you and your dog will be learning tons of fun tricks!

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