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The ClickerChallenge Comes to Switzerland

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Recently I enjoyed an e-mail correspondence with clicker trainer Simone Fasel regarding herding training and other clicker training issues. Simone was kind enough to share her impressions (and an associate's photos!) of the recent ClickerChallenge held in her home country, Switzerland.
—Karen Pryor

Targeting
Targeting

Our inaugural event

The first-ever ClickerChallenge in Switzerland took place the weekend of May 19-20, 2007. It was quite an exciting event—and what an exciting evolution clicker training has been through in our country!

Ten years ago hardly anyone knew about clicker training here in Switzerland and, of course, it was almost impossible to find a clicker to buy. I remember the first time I took the clicker to a traditional dog class. I was told that clicker training would cause my dog to become mentally ill when he aged! (In fact, my dog died a happy "clickerdog" with unimpaired mental faculties. I would love to have known about clicker training much earlier!).

Carrying an article to a certain spot and depositing it there
Carrying an article to a certain
spot and depositing it there

And this year, ten years later, we have our first ClickerChallenge—wow! Approximately 50 enthusiastic clicker folks from Switzerland and Germany met at Aarwangen, in the canton of Berne, Switzerland. The event was organized by Claudia Moser and ran amazingly well.

The team challenge

On Saturday, the team challenge took place. Seven teams, each with four trainer/dog partners, participated. The participating dogs were drawn from many breeds: beagles, collies, Labradors, various spaniels, all kinds of terriers, and many mixed and rescue breeds. There was a range of ages and clicker experience across the teams. One sheltie, fairly new to her owner and clicker trained for just four months, took part and was great.

Sabine Winkler with her dog Jamie, working at “going over targets arranged at a right angle”
Sabine Winkler with her dog
Jamie, working at “going over
targets arranged at a right angle”

Each team had four tasks that were distributed to individual team members according to the special strengths of each dog/trainer partnership. After the tasks had been distributed, the ClickerChallenge started immediately. There was no time to train or practice beforehand, because the goal was to show the actual shaping process and not just the result. This turned out to be a fantastic learning opportunity for all involved. There were so many creative ways to teach the tasks at hand—what a thrill to see them all!

There were no judges, but point assignments were given for each task completed successfully. Teams were motivated to collect bonus points as well. Knocking over cones and throwing dice with the handler standing at a distance from the dog earned teams their first points.

Darwin wanting to eat the flower instead of only touching it
Darwin wanting to eat the flower
instead of only touching it

The carrying task was very tricky. Each dog had to carry a little basket away from his handler to a spot on the floor. If the dog put it down exactly on the designated spot, the team earned 100 points and enthusiastic applause!

Next, the individual challenge

On Sunday, the individual challenge took place. There were three degrees of difficulty available within the individual challenge; each handler could choose the ideal level for his or her dog.

There were so many interesting tasks:

  • How do you teach your dog to pick socks off the clothesline?
  • Can you shape your dog to stand on a chair and sniff a flower at the same time? (The flower was made out of plush material, which made it difficult, as many dogs thought the flower was another dog toy!)
  • How do you direct your dog to walk over five targets on the floor arranged in the shape of a right angle?
  • Can your dog drive a ball around an obstacle?
Splash driving the ball
Staying on a chair for 3 seconds
Staying on a chair for 3 seconds
Splash driving the ball

We'll do it again!

Everyone who attended the weekend ClickerChallenge received many new training ideas, but the best part of the event was the great atmosphere. There were so many friendly dogs and people meeting at one place. That was really clicker magic!

See you all at next year's ClickerChallenge: May 1-4, 2008!

Photographs courtesy Gabrielle A. Zaugg.

About the author
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Simone Fasel lives in Freiburg, Switzerland. She is a psychology student and volunteers with “special needs” shelter dogs.