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As Clicker Training Develops


Clicker training doesn’t stay the same. With so many skilled users now, and the Internet to keep us all in touch, we’re going further and further up the mountain.

Dog on a mountain

Go higher with freestyle

We’ve launched a new course on the Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) website, Canine Freestyle I, or dancing with dogs. Michele Pouliot, top competitor, uses some very sophisticated clicker training techniques for teaching this sport to both you and your dog. Course platforms include precision heeling, using one behavior to teach another, new ways to read your dog, new ways to think about cues, and new kinds of cues, from props to (of course) the music.

The course is open to everyone; however, you do need to be enough of a clicker trainer to be comfortable with shaping, cueing, and back-chaining. Try out the demo Freestyle lesson online. Or, come and learn from Michele Pouliot herself at ClickerExpo this year. Freestyle is a great way to take your clicker training higher.

Go higher with agility

The talented Swedish agility trainers, Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson Vegh, are working on a new book for us, Agility Right from the Start. They focus on skills for the dog—over, under, through, around, aiming and moving forward—and skills for you—cueing, back-chaining, free shaping, and precision body work. The book’s clicker methodology is ingenious and innovative.

The new book lets you get yourself and your dog ready to compete even before you go near an obstacle. (How about teaching your dog to LOVE knocking things over and making a noise? Now banging the teeter totter down is reinforcing!) When you do get on the course, the obstacles are the dog’s responsibility. Your job is to tell him where to go next. Period. Is that what most agility trainers are doing now? Not yet.

Obedience competitors take note—you can train this way, too. Come to ClickerExpo 2010 and learn more about and from Eva and Emelie.

Take your classes higher

It used to be that a beginner obedience class for the general public was the same everywhere. Once a week for six weeks you tried to train sit, stay, down, come, and heel. How last-century is that!

Today, KPA faculty and KPA graduates teach skills, not just behaviors, to people and to dogs, too. Dogs learn to wait for cues, offer behavior, and target. People learn mechanical skills (holding the clicker and leash and delivering treats at the same time) and the skills of timing, cueing, and observing the dog. It’s not the behaviors that define a good dog; it’s the skills that make dogs and people best buddies, ready and able to go on learning new things for a lifetime of togetherness.

Want to know more? Find a KPA Certified Training Partner (CTP) in your area. Or come to ClickerExpo 2010, where KPA Program Director Tia Guest will show you how to take your class skills higher.

Take your connections higher

If you’re teaching the public, veterinarians can send you business—but only if you know what their restrictions and worries are, and how to make your services a boon to them instead of a headache. Julie Shaw, Senior Animal Behavior Technician at a leading midwest veterinary university, will show you how that’s done at ClickerExpo.

It’s the same with shelters—you might love the idea of working with needy dogs and cats and their adopters at your local shelter, but will the shelter staff love you? Jen and Steve White have a new ClickerExpo Session on merging your skills with the shelter environment.

A higher understanding: Reaching the Animal Mind

Thanks to neuroscience, we now know a lot more about clicks and the pathways this kind of learning takes in the brain. We know why it works so fast, and why it’s so much fun. We know how it actually bypasses the logical, verbal part of the brain. I’ve included all of this illuminating information in my newest book, in the chapter on neuroscience.

Digging around in neuroscience also helped me understand a lot more about trainer successes and failures with cues. When a cue doesn’t work, it is ALWAYS because in one way or another it is no longer a conditioned reinforcer (look at pages 134-136 of RTAM.) That’s perhaps my most useful new contribution. We always “sort of” knew that, but now we can understand.

So, the train hasn’t stopped. This is not the final destination. We are still covering new ground. Welcome aboard.

Happy clicking!
Karen Pryor


About the author
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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

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