What is Real Clicker Training?


Note: I have noticed from the enthusiastic response to this article something rather interesting. The objections presented in the comments run to several basic themes. One type of objection picks a tiny point and emphasizes it well beyond the main theme of the article.That is called a “straw-dog” argument – where contradicting a lesser point is supposed to neutralize the bigger issues. The rest of my blog has the equivalent of a 300 page book on topics that all relate to the real world. Some of those articles may answer your questions in the broader context. As you read this I would suggest that this is about real animals – straw dogs need not apply. Continue reading

Gary Wilkes Jacksonville Seminar Dec. 9&10, Jacksonville, FL

We are going to have a blast in Jax! For those of you who don’t know what to expect, take a look at these links. They will give you a taste of construction tools that can dramatically improve performance for working and sport dogs. Contact Anne Baxter in Facebook or go to Dog Obedience Group of Jax  anne@dogofjax.com

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Anne will be handling registrations.

Now for the fun stuff.

Targeting basics with a raw dog.

What you can do with it…

These are videos on my youtube channel, wilkesgm1. There are about 60 of them there and you can also see videos dealing with behavior modification and a variety of topics.


Socialization: There’s the rub…

This is often what ‘socialization’ leads to.

Think about the root of that word for a second. Social. It means “relating to society or its organization.” Socialization is the process whereby we adapt to society. In modern dog training that means putting dogs together as a prerequisite to acceptable social behavior. This is an example of editing reality to promote an agenda.

The assumption that socialization is automatically beneficial requires evidence that is not currently provided. If a dog has a good dose of genetically transmitted aggression, interaction with other dogs will trigger that behavior. More interaction means a faster ‘ramp up’ to skills associated with fighting. That is because normal, adult canines have to be able and willing to viciously fight at the drop of the a specific trigger. To ‘not fight’ is the anomaly for all canids. They fight BECAUSE they have been socialized, which elevates them to a fully adult repertoire. It’s like a terrier that kills it’s first rat, a Cattle Dog that heels it’s first cow and a pointer that points its for bird. No bird, no point. Birds ’causes’ pointing. More birds, more points.

What this really means is that the person blindly promoting ‘socialization’ is giving a one-dimensional view of dogs. That view ignores developmental processes that occur at puberty and later during full maturation. Dogs that are friendly as juveniles may become seriously dangerous dogs as they mature, regardless of how much they were socialized. Fully adult dogs may be passive around the vast majority of dogs and have an attitude about a single dog.

To see this clearly, consider ‘leg lifting’ as a metaphor. One day the dog is squatting to pee and then, suddenly, it lifts its leg. Socialization has no influence on that. Dogs that have been around other dogs graduate to leg-lifting and dogs that have never been around other dogs lift their legs at about nine months, too. If socialization is a prerequisite for having a well behaved dog, why doesn’t it work on such a passive, genetic trait?

Now we get to a big point. Socialization is promoted either implicitly or explicitly as a preventative fix for aggression. It is promised by people who do not know how to control aggression. I know that because the rule in day-care is that if a fight breaks out, the dog is banned. Think about that. A dog is in day-care for months as it matures and yet, one day, picks a fight. This mirrors the developmental behavior of leg lifting. One day it’s not there, the next day it is.

The only difference between aggression and leg-lifting is that if the dog lifts its leg at daycare, they clean it up. What they do not suggest is ‘more socialization’ to return the dog to a juvenile state of squatting to pee. That is because there is no connection between socialization and arrested development. You can’t turn the clock back. It won’t work with leg lifting and it won’t work with humping or fighting. Any rational person realizes that developmental behaviors are simply a matter of time. Once those behaviors wake up, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. (Yes, that is a mixed metaphor) Guess what wakes them up? Socialization.

The More Important Component: Do the right things.
Male dogs that I own do not lift their legs, intact or not. They don’t fight, intact or not. They don’t attack other dogs whether they have been broadly socialized or not. I can extend those statements to my clients’ dogs if they ask in advance for those outcomes. This is regardless of socialization. My job is to sculpt a dog’s repertoire and give them a life devoid of problems. Socialization doesn’t do that. Planned, controlled training does that.

Prep for a Gary Wilkes Seminar…cont’d.

“The most sane voice in the dog training world is Gary Wilkes. His life experiences have qualified him from a unique perspective to point what is right and wrong in the dog training world. The man that brought clicker training (positive) to the dog world is also an expert and proponent of well-time, safe and effective corrections.”
Mark Fulmer: Owner, breeder, master trainer: Sarah Setter Kennels, Aiken, SC

To get you ready for one of my seminars, there are some simple things that can dramatically improve your experience. They are simple and require very little time. I have included links to blog posts and videos that you can examine in your spare time. I offer two types of information – basic and advanced. The basic stuff covers foundational knowledge that will get you up to speed, quickly. The advanced stuff won’t likely make sense unless you have experience that examines the topic in a manner similar to mine. Don’t be bothered if some of the information doesn’t make sense. It will.

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An Open Letter to Dog Trainers:

After 8 years of watching the results of shelters and animal control I knew what dog owners needed. You can’t have people hand you their dog and not figure it out after ten or fifteen thousand. Yes, they lie on exit questionnaires. That should be assumed. They say what they can to get themselves off the moral hook. As they are new to the process of giving up a dog the use trite, non-justifications – they’re moving, The dog digs holes. It jumps the fence. All may be true – but the questionnaire readers swallow the lies and discount the truth. That is because they haven’t received 10,000 dogs from people. They extract the data and then twist it to their own purpose.
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Variable Consequences – Key Ingredient of Learning

Variable Consequences – Part 1.

“Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead.” – Aldous Huxley

While Huxley may not have known much about dog training, his point was well taken. In order for  an  organism to be alive, it must be able to vary its behavior according to changing circumstances. Even though most forms of dog competition require consistent performance, behavioral variability is  a key ingredient to  creating exceptional performance levels. Trainers who understand how to use variability and consistency are better able create and maintain their dog’s great performance.
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The Emperor’s New Khaki Clothes.

Once upon a time I was asked to go to one of the most prestigious zoos in the country as a consultant. They are so prestigious that I was not allowed to refer to myself as a consultant. The behavior director gave me an intimate tour that included going past an adult ocelot in a long, narrow ‘natural’ cage about 30 yards long and 6 yards wide. The cat stayed at one end. He would leap up on the fence, leap to the corner fence, drop to the ground, head toward his starting point and do it again…and again…and again. The cat was clearly mad from confinement. Why was it on display? To attract customers. It was the only ocelot they had.ocelot

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The Formula

1) Strengthen tendencies toward a behavior that the dog can pigeon-hole as a unique behavior. This can be done with either positive or negative reinforcement.
2) Once the behavior is predictably replicable, precede the behavior with an arbitrary cue. If you wish to use different modalities (visual vs. auditory vs. tactile) put them in sequence, NOT at the same time.
3) Practice the pattern using positive reinforcement.
4) Create a situation likely to fail. Apply “punishment for failure to perform a known behavior in a timely fashion” – Do it right and do it right now. You may have to use positive reinforcement to increase likelihood of response. Then repeat this process until it happens ‘right, right now’. This is a critical step and may take several shots dropping to #3 to get to another round of #4.
5) Integrate the behavior into the dog’s repertoire so that you can get it when you want it and no other behavior conflicts. This will use reinforcement and punishment (both types of each) as needed to maintain high levels of performance and reliability.
6) Maintain the behavior as needed. If it fails, go back to step 1. Do not try to take a short cut by dropping to a slightly lower level of performance. You may have a fundamental error embedded in the behavior at any part of the process.

p.s. If you can’t state a concise formula for what you do, work on it. Simplifying it to basic principles helps clarify the process. It also makes trouble-shooting easier.

Tell me what you won’t do – I’ll tell you what you can’t do.

Tell me what you won’t do and I’ll tell you what you can’t do.
Tell me what you don’t know and I’ll tell you what you can’t know. – Gary Wilkes

I know behavior. Not just dogs. I know 9 species, including humans. There are commonalities to all of them. There are differences to all of them. They all respond to fundamental principles of behavior. If you recall, that was B.F. Skinner’s mantra – watching a pigeon allows you to extrapolate to the entire population of humans and animals on the planet. That is highly unlikely to be true, even if you examine how pigeons behave in nature. Now imagine you decide that you are only going to study how often they do a single behavior – an instinctive behavior NOT common to most species…pecking things. Then decide that you ‘prefer’ one of the polarities of behavioral effects…positive reinforcement. Now go back and look at my two statements at the top of my post.
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