I spent last May training an adolescent dog to perform a special trick for a TV commercial. The objective was for the 3-year-old, small mixed-breed terrier, Millie, to jump on top of a soft-sided crate and smash it down to convert it into a “bed” on command.
Choosing a Training Method
Because film sets are full of distractions, I chose to train Millie around distractions so she would perform flawlessly on the day of filming. I invited my 10-year-old, small dog, Cee Cee (and a few of the neighbor dogs), in to watch us practice. Cee Cee usually watches from her own bed while I’m training other dogs anyway.
Millie was rescued from the street after living in several homes. She had been abused by at least two of her previous owners. I could tell that living in those conditions had deeply affected her. If I just lifted my hand to grab my water bottle for a drink, she cowered down like something horrible was about to happen.
I have trained dogs for more than three decades, so I knew that building trust and utilizing a positive communication system with Millie was the only way that she would be able to master these tricks and be the star in this commercial.
Clicker training is the oldest and most positive-based training system available, so I chose to use that to train Millie. She is smart dog, a survivor, and deserved to be surrounded with support and positive energy.
Clicker training utilizes a small handheld tool that makes an unmistakable “click” sound when you press on it (they come in various sizes and shapes). Millie joined me in my home for a 10-day boot camp session of intense clicker training.
Successful Training with a Click
From the moment I first began training Millie that the “click” she heard meant something positive, she captured the concept and away we went! Time on the street sure made her eager to do anything for me, so we were definitely bonded as she handed me her paw of trust.
I began by “loading” the clicker. This simply means that, with the clicker in hand and her dinner bowl filled with some extra enticing goodies, I would:
- Give Millie a handful of food and an ear scratch
- Give Millie a handful of food and an ear scratch
- Repeat until the meal was gone
If you are training your adolescent dog, repeat these steps at mealtime until your dog is happy when he hears your “click.” (Adolescent dogs range between 1 and 3 years old, depending upon the breed.)
Millie was a smart girl. She picked up on the concept that the click meant something good was coming to her right away, instead of the fear she used to feel on the street.
The next training session, with my hopes set high, I decided to go for it. It went something like this:
- I placed the soft bed in front of her
- She went inside, a desirable part of our script
- I immediately “clicked,” following it with a bite of food and a deserved ear scratch
- I asked her to come to me, she did
- I “clicked” again, immediately following it with a bite of food and an ear scratch
- Then I asked her to jump on top of the soft crate — and she did!
- I “clicked,” immediately following it with … well, you get the idea now
Ten days passed as Millie perfected her stunt, and it was time for her to be the star. We walked into the studio and began to practice, clicker in hand. No cowering occurred even with the bright lights and all the people around her making noise and moving things around. She was better than ever before. What an outstanding performance!
The “click” sound is so distinct that Millie could hear it even through the noise. It was a very proud day for both of us. She returned home with training instructions, as her owners were eager to keep up her new, positive training method.
Now, the funniest part of this story happened when I returned home. Cee Cee, my senior observer with a keen sense of what is going on around her, ran over to the soft bed in its crate form and jumped on top of it just as she had seen Millie doing for the past 10 days. She looked at me as if saying, “Where’s the click, Mom.” It was the cherry on top of a perfect day. I had inadvertently clicker trained my senior dog to do a new trick. Millie was a great example and inspiration to my senior dog. Yes, clicker training works.
Giving Love to Clicker Training
Whether you have just rescued your young dog, or your beloved furry companion has been by your side for years, give clicker training a try. You don’t have to be a professional dog trainer and your dog does not have to be top of his breed class to grasp the oldest and most positive method of effective communication.
No matter what age I am or what experiences I have, I’ll never stop learning. And I don’t plan to stop using clicker training or any positive training solution any time soon for rescue dogs who have suffered abuse in their life.
Clicker training has proven to me that “any dog can learn new tricks.” It just takes healthy, appropriate motivation and a patient, persistent owner. This training method is safe, easy and effective. Now that you have an understanding of how it works, you and your dog can soon be traveling the superhighway of communication no matter what circumstances your young dog has lived through.