Monday, March 26, 2007

You Know What "They" Say...

An apropos quotation for today:

"Youth is wasted on the young"

It's hope and regret mixed together, I guess. See, today I am 35 years old. I am midway through a years-long career change. If only I knew then what I know now, is that how it goes?

The regret: I spent 4 years of college and my parents' money studying a field that I only used for 5 or so years after graduation. I could have studied psychology or biology, emphasized behavior theory and modification, and been rapidly progressing to becoming one of the top dog behaviorists in the country. Who knew working in an office was so soul-draining and reflux-inducing? I didn't. Every adult I knew worked in an office. It's just not for me.

The hope: I am doing it. Albeit 15 years later, but I think (hope) I have another 30-40 years of prime time left, and maybe I'll still become top of the field, although probably not in the realm of behavior, more in the area of obedience/positive reinforcement training. But the door is open, of course, for me to change my mind. And that's the wonderful thing about life - you never know what's around the next bend. The goal is entirely attainable - that I will be making a living helping people understand the doggy mind, and train their dogs to live among humans.

So, today I am telling myself: "yes, I could have done it years ago, but no worries - I'm doing it now".

I leave you with Franklin and his new friend, from the dog park on Sunday morning:

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

For Jean

Hi Jean! I hope you're doing OK. Are you back in London now? I hope your friends are taking good care of you.

Anyways, since you asked:

Clicker training is a positive reinforcement technique used to train dogs do do a variety of commands, from sit to complex work performed by guide dogs.

In order for a dog to understand a command, a reward (in most cases a food treat, sometimes a toy) must be given to the dog within 3 seconds of his performing the command correctly. After 3 seconds, the association in the dog's brain between the command and the performance is broken. So, for example, if I tell Franklin to "sit", and he sits, I need to give him a small bit of hot dog (or freeze dried liver, but we won't get into that!!) within 3 seconds, otherwise he won't know that it was his lovely "sit" that earned him the treat.

But if you think about it, it can be difficult sometimes to get the treat to the dog n that limited time frame, especially if you're working with Joel Walton's "All or Nothing" technique (more on that later...but remind me to do it).

That's where the clicker comes in. A clicker is a small piece of plastic that makes a clicking noise when pressed. A trainer can hold it in his or her hand the entire time while training their dog (you can't do that with food...your dog will snap it right out of your hand!). When the dog performs a command correctly, the clicker is clicked, and the dog is also given a food reward. Eventually, the dog learns that the clicking sound means he did the right thing. Once the dog learns to associate the clicking sound with the correct action, it becomes much easier for the dog's trainer to reward the dog within the 3 second time limit.

You can see that this would be great for training guide dogs, because a lot of the time, the guide dog won't be near the trainer when doing a command, making it impossible to get a food reward to the dog within 3 seconds. But, the dog can always hear a click from across a room!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Fantastic Puppy Class

We just started a new session of puppy classes. Not only is the class at 10:00 a.m. (as opposed to the usual ungodly 8:30 a.m.), but the dogs and humans are most excellent. Everyone listens, and no one gets freaked out when they make mistakes. And the dogs are all smarty pantses.

I also got to teach a makeup lesson, which I don't get to do too often. The people are doing clicker training with their dog, who is singularly squirmy and fun (the dog, not the people, although they could be fun, I don't know them that well).