Brendan is a dog-training enthusiast. He’s owned several dogs over the years, and he’s done both obedience work and agility classes, so he knows what’s involved. When he took Toby on as a puppy, he knew that he had the intelligence to be a very well trained dog. Both Labradors and Irish Setters are originally working breeds, so Toby had the right genetic heritage to be a highly skilled performer.
Brendan started the training when Toby was a pup, teaching him to sit, lie down, wait, and to come when called. He signed him up for classes with the Working Trials Club of Ireland. Training sessions are held on Sunday mornings, with the new season starting in mid-September. The Club provides training in obedience and agility as well as preparation for working trials. Brendan describes Toby as a “middling” student – he’s well-behaved at home, but in the classes, with other dogs around him, he gets distracted easily. He’s still young, and he has potential, but Brendan realizes that he’ll need consistent, patient work over months and years to achieve a high standard.
As part of the training programme, Brendan started to do “clicker training” with Toby. This involves using a hand-held metal clicking device to assist in teach a dog new skills. The “clicker” is a way of teaching very specific movements. It can be used to make a click at a precise moment: when the dog sits, or when the dog lifts a paw, or whatever. The dog is given a reward just after the click, and then starts to associate the precise movement that’s been made with both the click and the reward. It’s easier to use a clicker than a voice, because it’s a very specific sound that cannot be confused for anything else. If you search for “clicker training” on the internet, you’ll find plenty of examples, and videos, of dogs being trained with clickers. Many of the complex tasks that dogs carry out e.g. as “actors” in movies, are only possible through clicker training. Clickers are also used to train other species, including horses, zoo animals and even whales.
Toby was doing very well with clicker training, and Brendan felt that the potential of the dog’s breeding was finally beginning to show. Then over a few weeks, the progress stopped and Toby began to ignore the clicker. Formerly, even when Brendan just picked up the clicker, Toby would give him immediate attention, in the same was as many dogs focus on their owners when they pick up a bag of dog food or the dog’s leash. Now Toby just ignored the clicker, Brendan couldn’t work out what had gone wrong.
Then last week, he heard a clicking noise coming from downstairs. When he checked, he found his young son Rory with the clicker in his hand, busily clicking away. When asked what he was doing, Rory explained that Toby had been ignoring him, and he’d discovered that by using the clicker, he could get the dog’s instant attention. By using the clicker randomly, and without any reward, Rory had successfully managed to reverse Toby’s clicker training skills.
Brendan’s started again with the clicker, but now the device is put up on a high shelf at the end of the day, well out of the reach of curious young hands.
- Clicker training is a highly effective way of teaching obedience to dogs
- Frequently repeated sessions and a consistent approach are critically important
- To find out more about the Working Trials Club of Ireland, go to www.wtci.ie.