Dog Behavior Training Basics: The Clicker Training Game

Positive reinforcement is a big factor in dog training, and frankly, we sometimes don’t do the best we can when it comes to shaping our dog’s behavior in a positive way. Clicker Training is a learned skill, it should be practiced. When it comes to clicker training your dog timing is key, so practicing timing your clicks can bring about a dramatic difference in your dog training. Renowned animal trainer Karen Pryor has a wonderful game to play with friends and family, a game that teaches us how to be better trainers (and is fun to play at the same time!).

clicker training

In her book “Don’t Shoot the Dog!” (an excellent resource, by the way—make sure to check it out on Amazon), Karen demonstrates the superiority of positive reinforcement over punishment as a means to shape your dog’s behavior. Her dog training method, Clicker Training, has proven to be, in our opinion, one of the best methods for dog training. If you are unfamiliar with Clicker Training, the principal is simple: you mark wanted behavior with a distinct sound, usually a click from a toy clicker. (For more information on clicker training, check out our previous post that describes it in more detail). Timing is everything, and you have to be creative in coming up with different ways to shape the behavior you want. To practice timing your clicks, play the Clicker Training Game with family or friends to hone your skills.

Here’s What You Will Need:

• Minimum of 2 people
• At least one whistle or clicker

Here’s How to Play!

Basically, you are going to clicker train each other. One person is going to be the “dog” while the other becomes the “trainer.” The object of the game is simple: the trainer tries to get the dog to accomplish a predetermined goal, yet without any vocalized cues. While the “dog” is out of earshot, the trainer (and whoever else is present) decides on an action they want accomplished. The only rule is there should be absolutely no talking or communication between the “dog” and anyone else in the room (this includes grunting, head-shaking, sighing, texting, and anything else that communicates to the “dog”).

Also, we have found that when the “dog” is clicked, he or she should either go back to their starting point, or go to the trainer for a “treat.” This keeps them from freezing up, and trying to analyze themselves. This game isn’t a “hot/cold” game. The dog isn’t supposed to try and figure out what the trainer wants, it’s up to the trainer to click in a way that will shape the dog. In her book, “Don’t Shoot the Dog,” Karen Pryor discusses how clicker training affects the subject. “The subject gets to discover that in this form of learning, brains don’t help. It doesn’t matter what you are thinking about; if you just keep moving around, collecting whistle sounds, your body will find out what to do without “your” help.”

Typical Gameplay

Here’s how one typical clicker training game went. I recently introduced this game to some young adults who had never clicker trained before. Out of a group of 9, I selected “Kara” as the trainer, and “Luke” volunteered at once to be the dog. Kara soon decided on what behavior she wanted Luke to do—she wanted him to eventually scratch his head. While a seemingly simple task, this is moderately difficult. Kara immediately clicked when Luke approached a chair, which he sat down in—Click!

clicker training game

Kara’s reasoning was to get him in a single spot, that way he would do more actions with his arms and hands rather than moving around. Luke sighed as he sat down—at the exact moment when he heard a Click! So the next behavior he offered was deep, audible breathing. “Sorry Luke, but we won’t make you hyperventilate.” Luke tried all sorts of things trying to rack up clicks—most notably sliding down the chair, much to the amusement of the spectators.

clicker training game

He eventually rested his chin on his hand to think—as soon as he did, Kara clicked. After a few attempts, he covered both eyes with his hands…Click! This is where he got stuck. While the eyes are much closer to the top of the head than the chin is, it was confusing to Luke because covering both eyes is such an unusual behavior. He then exhausted different variations of this, and included much scooting, turning around, bending forward—all without being clicked for it.

clicker training game

Luke was stumped. Although its up to the trainer to get the subject to perform, it can be frustrating if behaviors go too long without reward. Luke was ready to give up, and reached up to scratch his head in puzzlement—CLICK! Kara caught the behavior perfectly, her timing was excellent!

Clicker Training Game

Once being clicked for his “caught” behavior, he offered it more freely this time, using both hands to scratch his head. Everyone applauded! Luke laughed and said, “Wait that’s it? You wanted me to scratch my head! Haha! that’s clever.”

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when playing this game. Making mistakes only shows you where your weaknesses are, and gives you an opportunity to learn and hone your skill. This game is 100% about being creative. By thinking of new ways to get your subject to accomplish a task, you’ll find yourself training better and getting frustrated less.

Send us your photos or videos (link to youtube) of you and your family and friends playing the Clicker Training Game!

For more information on the clicker training game, check out Karen Pryor’s website.
Check out Karen Pryor’s Book, “Don’t Shoot the Dog!” on Amazon.

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