Above: Heidi a puppy who belongs to pals in Lake Arrowhead
Now many of you know that I have been training animals for a long time…so long that sometimes I loose track of just how much knowledge is stored somewhere between my ears.
It is always interesting to me when people really want to get into training talk because it is rare.
I have the pleasure of having some new clients who are curious and compliant–which any animal trainer will tell you is a joy.
The couple has two dogs, one is a codependant and the other is too smart for his own good.
This means that they are not being trained the same way because what works for one doesn’t always work for the other.
I decided that the best strategy to use with Mr. Smarty Pants is the clicker.
The clicker commonly called a marker because you can clearly “mark” the behavior you want to reinforce. The clicker becomes a secondary reinforcer and is a great tool.
Although I use it heavily in my own work, I don’t always have my students use it because they are working with too many variables and changing their bad patterns to good ones and it is just one more thing to add–so we just use voice to mark the behavior.
However, there are some cases when the students have the aptitude or where the animal simply needs it.
My point is that no two dogs are always trained the same.
I’ve talked about animal social styles before (and you can find them outlined in What Animals Can Teach Us About Spirituality: Inspiring Lessons from Wild and Tame Creatures) because it is a trend I see across species.
Anyway, my client asked me why we were using the clicker with one dog and not the other.
Ms Codependant is too squirrely for him to be able to capture the right behavior at the moment it happens. (New training students always have a latency in marking–an interval between the behavior and their response.)
She actually reinforces off the slightest thing–such as eye contact.
We might eventually move over to using it with her but when working two dogs I want to keep them both keyed on learning and keep everyone successful.
Mr Smarty Pants will be able to progress quickly and we will fill in with tricks to keep his mind occupied while Ms Codendant learns to focus and be still.
Although I have a lot of academic training and years of experience, I also use my intuition and my intuition often guides me on cases such as this one.
My gut told me that it would be best to use different strategies but then I had to also use explain the principles to the client.
Another pet parent I worked with recently has a dog that was very linear.
If we attempted to add any variable to the behavior it would break down because the animal did not accept change well.
So, we trained her to the clicker and easily marked the behavior changes we wanted.
Because this was so different and fun for the dog, she immediately began to accept change.
I was happy to explain the nuances of the behaviors we were training along with my reasoning behind it after the session–something I don’t often get to do.
Not too many pet owners care to get that deeply into the topic and I can see the interest by the results these clients are getting and the conversations we have.
So, when you attempt to use techiques or strategies that worked previously with another animal and don’t work with one now–it is often because your approach is not appropriate for the social style of the current pet.