Why Clicker Training
Schutzhund is a demanding sport on both handler and dog. The sport is about the evaluation of inherent drives and working traits while the dog maintains control.
For greater precision during training and trials, advanced training methods are used to direct the drives of working dogs. Positive Reinforcement methods help the handler to teach the dog exactly how to learn. Dog trainers now have the ability to communicate clearly with their dogs. Through clear communication, dogs become willing participants in the sport, because they understand exactly what their handlers want.
By using newer training methods, dog handlers no longer rely on outdated compulsion and force training that, at one time, got their dogs to begrudgingly obey. The clicker training or positive reinforcement methods are training aids that help maintain harmony within the canine working team. These powerful tools allow a more humane way to meet the high expectations put upon competition dogs.
The key to "clicker training" is that the dog immediately learns which behaviors are correct through the use of a signal that we call a "cue". When the handler indicates the correct behavior through a clicker device or verbal sound we call this "marking the behavior with a cue". The handler offers a food or toy reward after sounding the cue.
Over a few basic clicker training sessions, the dog learns that the handler is rewarding the behavior that happened immediately before the cue. The dog learns exactly how to get what he wants. In turn, he will be more confident in his work, because he knows exactly what his handler expects. In addition, the handler gains a better feel for timing, the delivery of the reward, when training through the use of a cue.
Keep in mind that the "click" or "mark" can be a verbal cue, e.g., "Yes" or "OK" or even a sound made with your mouth. It does not have to be the standard clicker device operated by hand, although this is also a good choice. It just takes a little more coordination to operate it while training the dog.
(photo - Gjeter a Black German Shepherd Puppy learning through clicker training)
Gjeter came to us at 10 weeks old. Her importer informed us that they had been experimenting with the clicker dog training method Aka positive reinforcement. What a sight to see, a bright eyed pup, so willing and focused. I decided to look further into the clicker method since she was the first dog I had ever trained. I quickly learned that it was quite the trend. I gravitated towards books, websites and magazines that advocated clicker training. The method worked well for us since it did not require much physical effort on my part.
I quickly found out that dogs learn best if reinforced positively for correct behavior. The concept was clear, "Why build a foundation on what a dog is doing wrong, when you can build a solid foundation on what the dog does right!" After six months of working with Gjeter on my own, we started working with Denise Fenzi. She is a well known obedience coach and competitor for AKC and Schutzhund. She put our clicker training into high gear by emphasizing improved handling through continuous movement.
Denise helped put a solid obedience foundation on my girl, primarily through the use of the "clicker method". She advocated the importance of maintaining a healthy relationship between handler and dog by showing fair leadership through clear communication. We have since used clicker training to some extent in each phase of Schutzhund. We have had some nice successes and hope to see more through Gjeter's work and future litters.