March was a busy month. Peggy Tillman's Step-by-Step clicker picture book came out and people love it. Veterinarian and behaviorist Nick Dodman, author of "The Dog Who Loved Too Much," calls it â€˜a wonderful bookâ€¦a mustâ€¦this is the way dog training should be. If every dog owner bought this book I would be out of business and the shelters would have to shut down." Kathleen Weaver, founder of click-l, says flatly
"The absolute BEST dog training book I've seen." Kathleen, being a teacher, points out that it is suitable for 5th grade on up.
Youth Clicker Program benefits dogs and boys too
In March I went to Dallas, TX to speak at the annual conference of the Humane Society of the United States. Ran across a great clicker program created by the Dallas Humane Society and The Dallas County Youth Village, a facility for teenaged boys in trouble with the law. The shelter brings dogs to the Village. Two boys are assigned to each dog. They clicker train the dogs for 1 ½ hours a day for three weeks; at the end of that time the dogs know all their manners, plus some delightful tricks and games the boys have thought up. So far all the dogs have been adopted, and the boys use their new skills in the dorm, with their teachers and supervisors, and in getting their lives organized. The program welcomes visitors and volunteers. To learn more, call Rodney Henderson, 972-225-9700. Tell him the Clicker Lady sent you.
Getting a Master's Degreeâ€¦in clicker training!
I also visited the University of North Texas, in Denton, a bit north of Dallas. The Department of Behavior Analysis, which, sensibly, is in the School of Community Services, not in Psychology, is offering graduate and undergraduate courses in-what else?-clicker training! Under the able and imaginative direction of professor Jesus Rosales-Ruiz the first master's degree in the program has been given to a student whose thesis research consisted of clicker training five â€˜bad loaders,' quarterhorse mares who could NOT be gotten onto a trailer. (Everyone who's ever owned horses knows what a nightmare this can be.) The criterion was, "Each mare shall walk up to a narrow, dark, step-in, two-horse trailer [the worst kind]. When you throw the lead rope over her back she gets in by herself." Training began with targeting in the pasture. All the mares met the criterion. Data was collected for every click, including the all-important pre-training baseline data. The resulting paper will be published in the Journal of Applied Analysis of Behavior.
One main focus of the department is on children with developmental disabilities, a field in which shaping skills are a tremendous asset. Students are entering this challenging program from all kinds of backgrounds. I met teachers, nurses, biologists, liberal arts majors, and, of course, some experienced animal trainers who want to understand more about what they do.
Students do their hands-on research at zoos and animal shelters, and at home. Training a pet is a course requirement for graduates and undergraduates alike (special tip of the hat to Scott Mackenzie, whose cat, Puck, has over 40 behaviors, including sending a pool ball into any pocket Scott points to.) A student-run organization, ORCA, is a vital part of the UNT program. To learn more about this and other university programs that involve modern animal training, visit the ORCA website: http://www.pacs.unt.edu/orca/