Okay, I'll admit it: while I use
clicker training with Glindy, deep in my soul I'm not a
whole-hearted convert. I still believe that there are times that
corrections are warranted, and I'm product enough of our
punishment-based society that I still harbor the occasional
suspicion that reward-based training will fail me at some critical
moment. However, I had an experience this weekend that served to
reinforce my belief in positive-reinforcement training.
As I've no doubt mentioned before, one of the bad habits that
Glindy has always had is arousal-whining. Whenever she's anxious or
excited, she whines like a puppy. It's not a demand bark, and she's
not in pain, although strangers who don't know her the way I do
have occasionally asked "Why is she crying?" It's just her way of
expressing too much pent-up emotion; it is most definitely
We were day-tripping to Carnelian Bay to provide some Asperger's
Syndrome advocacy to a group of parents and school-aged children;
that's something one associate of mine chooses to call being a
"self-narrating zoo exhibit," but which I prefer to call providing
hope and insight. Anyway, it was a long drive through unfamiliar
terrain, and Glindy started her "Ooh, ooh! Something strange is
going on!" whining almost right away.
An hour of ineffective shushing, useless muzzle-gripping, and
unproductive "look" commands was enough to convince me that I
needed a different strategy on the way home. I'd tried the cued
silences, the corrective touches, and incompatible behaviors; now
it was time to give pure shaping a chance.
On the way back, I propped a treat bag filled with
on the flat surface just in front of my
gear-shift, and kept an iClick
left hand as I drove along the mountain roads. Every time Glindy
was quiet for even a fraction of a second, I'd click and
Of course, in the beginning, I made all the usual mistakes that I
warn other people against: being afraid to dole out a lot of treats
at the start; putting her on too thin of a reinforcement schedule
at first; being afraid to click if she wasn't quiet long enough;
stretching the time between clicks past her breaking point; missing
clickable opportunities; and of course, occasionally clicking just
as she started to whine again.
Nevertheless, Glindy and I made the most of that hour to refine our
individual techniques. After about 15 minutes of click/treat, she
started to get the idea--or maybe my timing just improved. Either
way, I started to up the ante.
First I stretched the time between clicks. Then I dropped the time
requirement, and only clicked for quiet downs in the back seat no
matter how short. Then I started lengthening the time again, and
eventually worked up to a three-minute fixed-ratio schedule.
By the time we got home, Glindy was lying quietly in the back seat,
and hadn't whined for more than a split-second in well over half an
hour. I'm sure we'll have to repeat the process again many times in
the future before it's second nature to her, but I just
by the end of that ride that Glindy had figured out
that lying quietly in the back was a good way to make salmon pieces
appear like manna from heaven, and that for whatever reason I was
no longer moved to do unpleasant things like grabbing her muzzle
for no reason at all (from a canine perspective).
Even if we're still reliant on treats at this point, and even
though I'm not convinced that I can rely on this behavior in
higher-stress environments, the important thing is that I got the
behavior that I wanted with minimal fuss. The greatest value, of
course, is that I elicited a desirable behavior while
my bond with my dog.
I'm still a product of a punishment-based society, but it's
training sessions like this that encourage me to have more faith in
the clicker. In short, this time the clicker reinforced