Clicker Training Your Collie

Positive, reward-based training will teach your Collie to respond to basic cues.

Complex behaviors are best taught when broken down into simpler components then gradually linked together to form the finished goal behavior. Practice training your Collie in different settings and at different times of the day so he understands that he should do as you ask, regardless of the situation.

Two types of reward-based training methods work well together: lure-and-reward and clicker methods. Luring your Collie with treats is useful for teaching simple behaviors, such as sit and down, because you can guide your dog into position by having him follow a treat, which is then given as a reward. Luring offers a quick way to start encouraging simple behaviors. You must phase out showing your dog the treat while still in the early stages of teaching each new task, however, or your dog might become dependent on seeing the reward before obeying.

Once your Collie readily follows the lure into the position, phase it out by making the same hand motion but without a treat. Your dog will follow your hand, expecting the treat to be there. When he does, quickly drop a treat into that hand, and reward your dog. From there, that hand motion can be used to signal the behavior.

Clicker training rewards good behavior by clearly communicating to your Collie exactly what you want. A “click” sound from a small, handheld noisemaking device or other special signal, such as a short, distinct sound or word, is used to mark the moment a desired behavior occurs, then the dog is immediately rewarded. The dog quickly associates the click with rewards, and he learns to earn desired resources — treats, toys, play sessions — by practicing behaviors that “cause” the click.

Dogs work confidently with this method and become eager to try new things because they’re not worried about penalization. The luring and clicker methods can be used together, initially luring the dog then clicking the moment the desired behavior occurs.

Another clicker technique, known as shaping, can teach dogs complicated behaviors. Split the goal behavior into mini-steps: You click and reward your Collie for each step, gradually adding more until your dog has learned the whole task.

Each step is rewarded many times. When your Collie seems confident doing that part, add another step. Shaping allows you to teach at a rate that works for your dog. If your Collie makes a mistake, go back to the last step he did correctly, and proceed from there.

Another way to use the clicker: Capture the desired behaviors that your dog offers on his own. If, for example, you’d like to teach your Collie to bow, click and reward every time he stretches and bows after waking. If you do that each time you see your dog stretch and bow on his own, he soon will try offering that behavior to see if he can “make” you click.

Treats should be tasty but tiny — about the size of a pea — so you can reward many times without stuffing your Collie. High-quality dry dog food makes a good training reward if you keep some in a jar mixed with yummier treats. The resulting puppy trail mix generates more interest than plain kibble.

Here are some basic skills and how to teach them.

Attention training: Attention training involves teaching your Collie a signal for him to look at you. Use your dog’s name or a word, such as “look” or “watch.” Show your dog a treat, say the attention-cue word, and raise the treat to the outer corner of your eye. Click and treat the instant your dog glances up. At first, click for any upward eye movement; later, hold out for eye contact. (Repeat, with quick eye contact, several times.)

Next, place a treat in your palm so it’s hidden, and point to your eye with your finger when you say the attention cue. When your Collie’s eyes follow your finger, click and treat. If he doesn’t look, lure your Collie with treats a few more times, then try again. Repeat several times.

Now, hide both hands behind you. Say the attention cue, and wait for your Collie to glance up. Most dogs will look for your hands without seeing them, then glance questioningly at your face. Click and treat. From then on, just use the verbal cue. Gradually increase your distance from your dog when cueing for his attention. Also practice around distractions, such as while at a park or playground with noises, smells, motion and other people and dogs.

Practice Makes Perfect

Training works best when blended into daily life. Whenever your Collie wants something — food, play, whatever — cue him to do something you’ve taught him, then reward him by granting his request. Once your dog has mastered each skill, start varying your training locations, and gradually introduce more exciting distractions — noise, motion, scents, people and animals. With patience, practice and positive rewards, your Collie soon will do as you ask — no matter what else is happening.

Training your Collie becomes easy and enjoyable with reward-based methods. Don’t stop with just the basics; you can keep teaching your Collie new things throughout his life.

Excerpt from the Popular Dogs Series magabook Collies with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Collies here.

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