Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Clicker Trainer's Curse

She's pretty sure someone's getting a treat in the other room
If you use the clicker, you know the drill: grab the treats, grab the clicker, begin training.

But what if you're just trying to dust the shelves in your living room and there's a clicker sitting up there? If your canines are anything like mine, that clicker packs just as much punch as the crinkle of a treat bag.

As I grab the clicker to move it out of my way, it makes that trademark metal-screechy sound across the wood of the shelf. Oh no. I freeze, like a mother of a newborn who's just been put to bed. Maybe if I don't move, they'll think it was just a noise from outside.

All the dogs faces whip in my direction with their necks fully elongated like a goose. Doh. They caught me.

That's the terrible thing about clicker training. It's too good! All I have to do is walk towards a clicker in the house and my four-leggeds go bonkers. They want to learn! They want so desperately to play in my game. Ugh!

Do you remember how I've been clicker training TAGteaching the kids? Well, that too has blown up in my face.

I asked L the other day, "do you know mine and Daddy's phone number in case of an emergency?"
"You don't! OMG! We need to get you to memorize those because it's really important...."
"We could learn by doing clicker training!!" **Eye roll**

D has a terrible time wiping her hands at the table. She's 3 but I swear, sometimes I expect her to have table manners of a 25 year old Southern Belle who grew up in a charm school. It's not fair of me, I know this.
"D! You're getting your elbows in your food! Watch what you're doing!"
"But I'm wiping my hands after I eat!"
"Don't reach for your napkin over your it by bringing the napkin to you..."
"Maybe I would learn better if we clicker trained!"

Now all I hear is "OO! Can we clicker train?" and "You could teach me something new with clicker training!" and "YAY! We love clicker training!"

It's become a curse, really. I can't get away from it. I can't just expect the kids to learn stuff through my constant nit-picking anymore. Now I have to actually teach them. And because I know better, I can't teach them with "Don't do this..." and "Don't do that..." Now I have to teach them using TAGpoints and a positive learning environment.

How the hell do you teach a phone number using clicker training!?!
I racked my brain for a couple days trying to figure that one out. How do you teach a 3 and 5 year old to memorize phone numbers by marking the correct answer and ignoring the wrong one? How do I set up the environment to make sure they will be successful?

The other sucky thing about clicker training: it challenges you to be creative.

I ended up using repitition and visual learning. Then I:

- broke down the phone number in easier sections
- wrote out the numbers and made the TAGpoint, "Trace over the numbers". We repeated this part twice.
- had them write the numbers they just traced
- asked them to write the numbers again, this time saying them out-loud
- asked them to read all the numbers on the paper out-loud
- covered the paper and asked them to repeat the numbers they remember seeing and saying.

Within 10 minutes each, they remembered the entire phone numbers. Without any practice or review, the next morning my 5 year old could still repeat the whole phone number. The 3 year old needed a little help. Amazing stuff, huh?

So, as you can see, now I have the dogs AND the kids begging to be clicker trained.

Case in point: I wanted to work with Kuna this past Saturday. When I started thinking of the logistics, I exhausted myself before starting! "Okay, well, I'd have to put Bizz in the other room because she'll just bark the whole time and then Sarah will howl at us because she wants to train. OMG! If I bring out the clicker, the kids will remember how I promised to train with them this weekend and I just don't have the energy right now..." See what I mean??

Feel bad for me, dog lovers! This is serious! It's not my fault that the clicker is so powerful! Why do I have to pay for the fact that everyone in my house wants to learn via operant conditioning!? I tell ya, it's a clicker trainer's curse.


  1. You need come serious clicker counter conditioning :)

    Great incentive to do more with the clicker, until now only used it with nose work, mainly scent discrimination. Should use it more, this is fun !

  2. I'm sure they are very happy to be learning using only one quadrant of operant conditioning. The click is small but it's mighty.

  3. Kenzo - yes! the clicker is really so much fun! limited by our own imaginations!

    Nose work, eh? The crew and I really need to get involved with that! (new year resolution #37!)

  4. Brad - Small but mighty is the perfect way to sum it up! If I had known what learning monsters I'd be creating, I would have thought twice before giving this clicker doo-hickey a try ;)