Q: How did you get started with clicker training?
A: I learned a much more traditional style of training, relying upon a choke chain and praise—never the use of food. I was introduced to lure and reward, and that was obviously more fun for the dog. And then I heard about clicker training! From the first moment I heard about shaping, everything just (dare I go there? Sure!) just clicked. Shaping made so much sense.
I immediately tried clicker training with my dog-reactive dog. In my naiveté, I decided that if I wanted her to see other dogs without barking, I should click her for looking at other dogs without barking. (I had unknowingly reinvented what is often known as the “look at that game”). It worked instantly, and I had deliberate looks toward other dogs and then back at me within a couple of minutes.
You know what they say about early and strong reinforcement – I could never go back.
Q: Tell us a little about how you use clicker training!
A: I work with a lot of reactive or emotionally jazzed dogs, and I love using the clicker to break through the visual and aural clutter they experience. The clicker really is more salient than a verbal marker, and can be so different from what is often a poisoned verbal cue. Often I can start to get traction with a clicker where just offering food had no results. Of course, the ability to react more quickly and precisely with a clicker is a great help; no matter how I hone my skills, I’m never going to be fast enough to cram a treat in a dog’s face as a trigger comes into view when the dog is facing away from me!
Q: How did you get involved with KPA?
A: I got excited when the DTP was first announced at ClickerExpo. I wanted in! I was eager to go through the course with an eye to becoming an instructor. I feel so fortunate to have been involved with KPA from the beginning, and I am still excited about the program!
Q: What are some key components or tenets of the Dog Trainer Professional program that you think benefit all clicker trainers?
A: The DTP really emphasizes the basics and data. I firmly believe that nearly all behavior problems are solved by improving the foundation, and not by getting more complex. I love being able to refine the basics of timing, setting criteria, and maintaining a suitable rate of reinforcement. You can’t evaluate any of those components without real data, so the habit of tracking is a great one!
Q: What has been the most rewarding part of your KPA experience?
A: I love helping people “get it” and discover for themselves the joy of communication and the fun of shaping. I’ve had students from all kinds of training backgrounds, including an electric-only program, and it’s awesome to see all of them realize that they can have so much fun together with their dogs during training.
Dog trainers who want to make great strides in their professional career should submit an application for the DTP program with Laura VanArendonk Baugh.