Last year, I had my first session with a very sweet but quite timid, one year old rescued Shih Tzu.
She came into the training building visibly worried - her tail was tucked and she was wary of me and alert to her surroundings. I encouraged her owner to just drop her leash and let her wander around, taking in her new surroundings at her own pace. While she carefully explored, her owner and I discussed the merits of clicker training.
If you're familiar with my training approach, you'll know I am a huge advocate of clicker training and shaping/capturing. One of the most compelling reasons to use clicker training in conjunction with shaping and capturing is that inevitable aha moment the dog experiences when they realize that they have some control in their learning. This takes them from being a passive learner to an active learner in the situation, allowing them to interact with you and their own learning experience in a way that just isn't possible with other training methods. For example, I have found that many dogs come into training accustomed to traditional methods of training, such as luring, correction-based training, or both. When a dog, who has never had a chance to offer behaviours before and have some sort of influence over the training session, realizes that they can do something to make a click happen (and thus a reward!), their confidence start to grow.
This little Shih Tzu was no different: after a half hour of work and play, her tail was wagging and she had a bounce in her stride. She wanted to engage with her owners and make those clicks happen! It was a joy to see and it reminded me of why I love this type of training.
Of course, there are many other reasons I love clicker training, that I've discussed in previous blogs. But there is really something special about the happiness it can bring into a training session. The clicker produces a reliable signal, without being clouded by human frustration, that the dog got it right. I am always amazed at the response that dogs have to clicker training. Something so simple can be a game changer to a dog that may never have had a chance to really be an active learning in their own training.
It's those little moments of joy that reminds me to pick up the clicker, grab the treats, and allow our dogs to show us how bright and amazing they are.
Would you like to learn more about clicker training for nervous or fearful dogs? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org