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Old April 27th, 2011, 04:26 PM
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millitntanimist millitntanimist is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: Kitchener, ON
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Here I go

What is clicker training/treat training?

These are really the same method. They are both part of positive reinforcement training. Positive reinforcement (adding a positive stimulus) is one of the 4 quadrants of learning along with; negative reinforcement (removing a negative stimulus); negative punishment (the removal of a positive stimulus) and positive punishment (adding a negative stimulus). For positive reinforcement training, in order to increase the frequency of a behavior we want we add a positive stimulus. This usually starts as food (later I will explain why food is so important here) but it evolves into privileges, toys, play etc.
We teach the dog a marker (that is the clicker, but it can also be a word or another sound or signal) so that the dog understands exactly what behavior we are reinforcing. Dogs live in the moment. It is very easy to reinforce/extinguish the wrong behavior (positively or through punishment) with poor timing. By marking the behavior, we give the dog a clear understanding of what we are asking. We create communication.

A word on reinforcement

As a positive trainer, I utilize food in training for 3 reasons.

#1 Food is a primary reinforcer:
A primary reinforcer is any stimulus that a being (this applies cross-species) needs no conditioning to find rewarding. Mainely: food, water, air and sex. Needless to say, food is the easiest of these for us to manipulate . The right food will be rewarding to any dog (if your dog is not taking food in a given situation, either the food item is not of high enough value, or the dog's sympathetic nervous system has kicked in and it is too stressed to eat).
You use primary reinforcers to build the value of secondary reinforcers (e.g. toys) - things that the dog may not instinctively find valuable but may come to enjoy even more that the primary reinforcer you started with.

#2 Food is highly rewarding, or rather the smell of it is:
It's really not so much about eating the food as it is the emotional response the food engenders. A dog's sense of smell is many times more powerful than ours. Smell is processed in a very primitive part of the brain called the Limbic System - which is the brain's pleasure center. When you pair the performance of a behavior with food, you are powerfully influencing a dog's emotional response towards that action.
With any kind of behavior modification food is an excellent resource because it allows you to change that dog's emotional response (rather than forcing them to mask their anxiety) to what frightens or intimidates them.

#3 It's fast
Positive reinforcement training and/or clicker training started in a scientific experiment to find the fastest and most effective way to train animals. Training animals with food and markers required the fewest repetitions for them to understand the new behavior and produced the fewest signs of stress in those being tested.

A word on treats

The "treats" my dogs get for training are pieces of dehydrated meat about the size of the head of a thumbtack and part of their daily diet. The amount earmarked for an entire training session would fit in the palm of my hand (remember, its about smell - if your dog has to chew it slows down training).
I think where training with food rewards gets a bad rap is the misconception that it somehow involves pumping your dog full of large sugar/grain laidened garbage the size of a small child's hand for each and evey success. No reward based trainer that I know of actually trains this way

The rundown

Perhaps the biggest misconception of positive training is that the dog will become dependent on food for performance. This is untrue (if done properly). In the initial stage of training we do heavily use food rewards because there are so many different new things to teach and behaviors to capture and reinforce (I usually instruct clients to stop feeding their dog from a bowl and instead have their dog work for their entire daily ration). Part of this training will also be conditioning those secondary reinforcers we talked about as well as fading the use of food as a lure for behavior. As training progresses we move rewards onto a random schedule (this is the most reinforcing way to hone behavior) and decrease the use of food in favor of life rewards.

Now, for your questions (almost done, I swear )

Originally Posted by dogcatharmony View Post
For treat training, how do you approach a situation when there are no treats?
To teach a new behavior you use rewards. Once the dog has learned the behavior this way, the dog's emotional response to that behavior is set. Therefore, I can ask my dog to sit anywhere (once they have been conditioned to multiple environments) and know that they will do so because they have a strong positive emotional response to performing that behavior.

Originally Posted by dogcatharmony View Post
What do you do if the dog ONLY performs for treats?
You have not faded the rewards properly. Part of training with rewards is having them appear from nowhere and not holding them out in front of your dog's face. Dogs are smart. If you don't make yourself unpredictable and the dog always knows when you have food, it won't work for you - it knows for sure that there's no payout (maybe you love your job and your boss, but would you honestly keep coming to work if you knew for sure you would never get paid?). You probably also failed to build those secondary reinforcers we talked about. Back to training with you!

Originally Posted by dogcatharmony View Post
If you dog decides to turn and run after something, how do you stop them with a treat or a clicker?
You don't. If you have trained them properly you have conditioned their emotional response to their recall command to be more powerful than the stimulus in front of them. Food itself probably won't be any help to you, especially if they are already off and running. But the hours you have put into making their recall mean "awesome things are about to happen" should be more than enough.
Just for the sake of conversation, here is a list of things we have called Moro (our semi-feral asian spitz/malinois) off of in the last year.
- many squirrels
- one very unhappy rabbit (his burrow is on one of our walking routes, the first time she had him in her mouth and released on command)
- a deer
- a bear
She did this all for a toss of her frisbee.

Originally Posted by dogcatharmony View Post
If you are treat training, and have to pull out a treat infront of another dog who may not be food friendly, what do you do?
If you are in a training situation you shouldn't be around strange dogs (unless that is part of the training) and food reactive dogs should never be out of their person's control. Regardless, you can fall back on simple behaviors and other reinforcers. Remove yourself and your dog to a safe place to resume training.

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