Our Gentle Giants

The story of two Floridians and their foster Great Danes

February 9th, 2015

I Didn’t Understand the Usefulness of Clicker Training until Now

By Tara

Bubba needs some work with greeting people in public. He barks at passers-by maybe a fifth of the time. Not at all in an aggressive way. I think he’s just trying to alert us of someone walking by. But because of his size and his deep bark, people freak out and I don’t like it for two reasons: 1) I don’t want anyone to be uncomfortable and 2) honestly, I get embarrassed.

So Christian and I are working on this by taking him out in public more and exposing him to these triggering situations so we can train him to not react like that.

Over the weekend, we took Bubba and Roxie to Chipotle with us in an attempt to work on his manners (also to taste the food of the godsssss). One of our methods was to distract him when he fixated on a person walking up to us. Calling his name wasn’t effective, so we either poked him or pinched him to get him to look away. Whenever he wouldn’t bark, we would praise him, either with verbal praise or physical praise (petting him).

At home, he is receptive to treats as a form of praise, but when it comes to stimulating situations, like being in public, he doesn’t care for treats at all. He completely ignores the praise.

To be honest, I’m not sure if he listens to our verbal and physical praise during these situations either.

It’s important to me to get the message across to him that he did something good and I think clicker training will be a lot more effective than verbal and physical praise.

My initial thought is: verbal praise is a sound and a clicker is also a sound. But I think he’ll be more receptive to the clicker because

  1. the sound of our voices blend into the sounds of our surroundings
  2. he is used to hearing our voices in a lot of different situations
  3. the clicker is a high-pitched sound that he will associate to praise and nothing else.

I understand the theory behind clicker training. I am very familiar with Skinner and operant conditioning (yay for having a degree in Psychology!). But I never liked it because I want to praise my dog with something they actually find enjoyable, like a yummy treat or love. Roxie is always ready for a treat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her lose her appetite.

black-great-dane-gentle-giant-handsome-laying-downHowever, I never knew how lucky I was to have a dog that is receptive to treats as a form of praise until I got Bubba. Bubba isn’t treat driven at all. And I don’t know what to do with that.

So I guess I’m going to get into clicker training!

According to Karen Pryor of www.clickertraining.com, the first step is to associate the sound of the clicker with praise. I just got up and let Roxie outside so Bubba and I could work briefly on clicker training (Roxie would have been a distraction to him). I had treats in my hands so Bubba was very eagerly following me around and focusing on me. I told him to sit and when he did, I clicked and gave him a treat.

We did this a couple of times and occasionally I would tell him to lay as well. He definitely knows “sit” (but currently only listens on his own terms, which is another thing we need to work on!) but I’m not sure if he knows “lay”. I put him in a sit, put the treat up to his nose, then slowly brought my hand down to the ground in front of him while saying “lay”. He stared at it for a bit and then slowly got down. Click, treat, “good boy”.

After a few minutes, I wasn’t sure what more to do besides repeatedly ask him to sit and praise him, so we ended it there.

We’re going to work on integrating clicker training with every command we give him. I have been working on commands at dinnertime because at those moments, he is very eager to do what I say (I’m the one with the food, muahahaha!). I’ll bring my clicker along from now on and have Christian do the same as well.

Do any of you clicker train? Or have you and not liked it? I want to hear about your experiences!

  • Jen February 9, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    I’ve never used the clicker but I’ve heard great things about it!

    • Tara February 13, 2015 at 7:31 pm

      I actually don’t know anyone who has used it. I mean, I know a lot of dog owners use clicker training. Just personally I don’t know anyone. Yay trying new things! lol

  • Jill Wilder February 12, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    I’m interested in hearing how your clicker training goes with Bubba. I’ve never tried it but I’ve heard you can definitely have positive results.

    • Tara February 13, 2015 at 7:32 pm

      Me too. I’m having an interesting time learning about how not all dogs are the same. I know that that is a given. But I’ve only -really- interacted with one dog for 10 years. It feels strange to me that Bubba doesn’t think the way Roxie does.

  • 2 Brown Dawgs February 17, 2015 at 8:19 am

    Best of luck to you. Let us know how it goes as you progress.

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