Honor and the Honor Roll
We started the Clicker Honor Roll in the early '90s, on our very first version of our website.
A common objection to clicker training, at that time, was that you couldn't use it to train for serious competition. I bet I heard this once a month or more, back then: "No one has ever gotten an OTCh with a clicker trained dog." (An OTCh is an Obedience Trial Championship.)
But unless you knew a particular dog and owner personally, how would one know if they were—or were not—a clicker-trained winner, high-scorer, or champion? The AKC announces the winners in many sports and forms of competition—but not how they were trained. We decided to put a place on our site where people could sign up their clicker-trained dogs (and other pets) and tell us about their achievements. Didn't have to be OTCh dogs: any win was fine.
Some wonderful stories came in, in those first days. The ten-year-old Irish setter who, after three weeks of clicker training, won a novice obedience title, after a lifetime of being considered "untrainable." The Afghan, used in conformation showing only, whose owner had recently switched over to clicker, that watched its housemate being trained to retrieve over a jump; raised a fuss, got let out of its crate, ran out into the training area, grabbed a dumbbell, and carried it over all the jumps in sight. The owner put an obedience degree on the Afghan in next to no time.
We have an Honor Roll on our current website. There are hundreds of dogs on the list, plus some cats, rabbits, and birds. There are numerous perfect obedience scores of 200; lots of obedience degrees, agility titles, and search and rescue and disaster dog achievements (a clicker-trained FEMA dog searched the Pentagon on 9/11). And yes, there are OTCh dogs too. Take a look.
On your honor
Of course, clicker training does not mean just using a clicker now and then. It refers to an extended methodology; one that does not incorporate punishment—or its euphemism, "correction"—as a teaching method. Most of us "get" that. We might have started out as traditional trainers, using compulsion-based methods; but we're clicker trainers now. And as clicker trainers say, you can cross over, but you can't cross back.
However, we've been told that some compulsion-based obedience trainers are putting their dogs and their wins on the clicker training Honor Roll!
Here's the deal, folks. If, when your dog makes a mistake, you use verbal rebukes (scolding, yelling), or leash pops and corrections, you are not clicker training. If you use the tools of compulsion—choke chains, pinch collars—you are not clicker training. So if your dog is trained that way, even if you sometimes also use a clicker—you should not have that entry on the clicker trained Honor Roll.
Some people may believe that those high-scoring dogs on the list "must" be punishment trained, like theirs, or they wouldn't be winning; that's a common prejudice. But in this case, it's wrong. Some people may assume that no one will object to their listing a compulsion-trained dog. Who would know whether you are actually clicker training or not? (Besides your dog.)
Well, anyone who trains with you, of course. And many who compete with you. And they are starting to tell us. Why? Because the Honor Roll, and the honor of the Honor Roll, is important to them.
Here's what one dedicated obedience instructor says:
As a "crossover" trainer from Koehler to clicker and PR based training, I can honestly say that I've experienced both methods in totality. I have taught classes and trained my own dogs using both.
Seeing the difference between the two, having more success with breeds labeled "non obedience" dogs, and the ease and fun of clicker and PR based methods has almost been a religious experience for me.
The hard part is trying to explain to the general public and to experienced dog owners and trainers the benefits of clicker training as opposed to compulsion training. There isn't enough "data" out there to use as proof. Many people claim that the only way to get a title and high scores in competitive obedience is to use compulsion methods.
The Clicker Honor Roll list is a place we can cite that shows that gaining titles IS possible using clicker training. That's what the list means to me. It's important.
So, what do we do? We have changed the Honor Roll entry form. We will require that all new entries "sign" the Clicker Promise, and allow you to give a description of the clicker work that led to the success (as many people already do). If you already have an entry, we will be sending you an e-mail with further information on amending it to indicate that your training met the criteria, or to remove the entry from the honor roll if, in retrospect, you see that being on there isn't appropriate. But mostly, we have to trust you. The Clicker Trained Honor Roll is on the honor system; you're on your honor.