When I first got Risa, I wasn’t into the whole “clicker deal.” I believed in using positive punishment as a way to proof behaviors a dog already knew. I trained new behaviors with treats. Once Risa knew it, I introduced punishment to make sure she did it immediately. That she knew she HAD to listen to me. But then I discovered clicker training. I didn’t switch over immediately. I clung to my prong collar so that I could enjoy walks with Risa (note that I never trained her to walk nicely, the prong collar simply didn’t allow her to pull). I still believed she was wrong when she reacted. But I eventually realized clicker training was the way to go and I’ve never looked back.
I like clicker training for a lot of reasons. One, the focus is on what the dog does right. It is so easy to see what our dogs are doing wrong. We humans are really good at pointing out mistakes. But that’s not the kind of attitude that fosters a positive relationship between two individuals. If all you see are the mistakes someone makes, how do you feel about them? It’s not a positive feeling, is it? You might come to resent them. But, if you focus on the good things rather than the bad, your whole attitude changes. Even if your dog does 10 “bad” things and 1 good one, your focus is on the good one. The thing you can reward. The thing that, once you reward it enough, will overshadow the bad thing. You learn to look for the good in your dog (this can also apply to your relationships with people too!).
Another thing I like is that it’s not adversarial. It’s not about “You are disobeying me and not doing what I want!” It’s about a partnership. Active communication between dog and handler. Both sides’ opinions are of equal importance. Besides, I had a lot of trouble distancing my frustration with Risa’s non-compliance from collar corrections. You’re not supposed to correct out of frustration or anger. . .and I had a lot of difficulty not doing just that. Clicker training eliminates that problem. (These days, if I get frustrated, I stop training and take a breather rather than getting increasingly annoyed with my dog.)
I also like that it builds creativity and confidence. Dogs aren’t ever “wrong” in clicker training. You simply wait for them to be right. They’re not afraid to try new things and they learn to deal with and work through frustration. Do you remember the first time you tried to shape a behavior with your dog? The only input they have is whether they get clicked or not. If they do get a click, they have to figure out what they did to earn it. That is frustrating. But a clicker-savvy dog will work through it. They will keep trying until they finally realize what gets them the reward. These dogs learn to deal with stress and realize that it’s not a big deal.
I also know that, had I not embraced clicker training 5 years ago, Risa and I would not be the team we are today. She really needed the confidence-building that clicker training provides. She needed to learn that she did have control over the world. Risa needed a handler who listened to her and understood her fears. One who was willing to go home if a situation was too much for her to handle rather than expecting her to just deal with it. A handler who was willing to take the time to teach her how to cope. A person who realized her potential and refused to give up knowing that she could reach it if we just tried hard enough. Clicker training taught me to be that person.