written by Jyl Snyder
Karen started out by talking about Clicker training (CT) and how it was a
cognitive process, where the animal was asked to figure out the task thru a
series of clicks. She talked about how it was important for the animal to
learn what was being asked of him, and that process would lead to a task that
was solidly learned because the animal participated, actually--directed, the
learning. She said that most clicker trained animals always remembered their
lessons and didn't have to be "refreshed" every week or so.
One of the more important points she stressed was always "clicking behavior
that was moving in the direction of the desired finished behavior". One lady
had brought a Schnauzer and the task was that the dog went under a chair that
was placed on the stage. She clicked when the dog was going in the direction
of the chair, even if the dog wasn't even near the chair, reinforcing the
direction she wanted the dog to go in. Karen stressed that if the trainer had
clicked when the dog was going away from the desired behavior, this would take
the dog longer to figure out what the trainer wanted.
We played the "trainer's game". I was the experimental animal and it was
really fun. I was to sit on the edge of the stage. Karen clicked by the edge
as I walked up the stairs but I got stuck on going up and down so she got me
up on the stage and then tried to click me back to the edge. One thing she
stressed here was to try to make the animal come to you for the treat, as it
broke up the pattern and didn't allow the animal to get "stuck" in one spot,
not moving. She said to do it with the dogs/horses/cats etc to encourage them
to move. When I didn't "get" the edge of the stage, she then changed tactics
to get me to sit down because I offered to sort of kneel and so she changed
from getting me to the edge of the stage to sitting down. For all you
trainers that wonder if this is possible, it sure is. If something isn't
working, change your behavior goals to something else that is part of the
task. In this case, it was sitting. I got that fine. So then.. while I was
sitting, I got stuck there, she got out her target pole and then led me over
to the edge of the stage.. I sort of crawled over because I was still "stuck"
in the sitting position, and Karen then artfully positioned me so I had to get
off the stage, clicking when I was going in the desired direction of the
behavior, then suddenly I was on the stage and sitting there.. everyone
started clapping so I "knew" that was the right behavior. This took about
five minutes or so. I could see why the trainers want to get a lot of
positive moves in the right direction right away so that the animal doesn't
get frustrated or "stuck" in a position and not move (or offer behaviors).
Of course, when first working with what she called "naive animals", those just
being introduced to training, it is very important to pair the click/reward
simultaneously. She inferred that dogs were better at understanding a time
lag whereas horses were not. When she started working with the naive dogs,
she C/R so that the clicker was clicking as the dog was eating, she said the
simultaneous pairing was "charging up the clicker" allowing the dogs to
understand that the clicker meant food coming. The two dogs she started with
were 6 month old bench Labs, they were afraid of the stage stairs... so she
worked on shaping them up the steps as a first task. The dog was fine with
going both up and down the stairs in about five minutes. The male Lab was
less interested in the clicker/target (but understood targeting quickly), very
unfocussed but the female Lab was very interested and seemed to pick it up and
progressed further in the training. I don't know if they were from the same
litter (it was possible) but it was apparent that one dog learned faster than
She talked about the reinforcement, the food, and then the cue. The
reinforcement strengthens the behavior that you want and the "cue" cleans up
the behavior, bringing the task under stimulus control. Thereby, having the
animal offer that behavior only on cue. The number of offered behaviors during
a training session would be dramatically reduced after the cues were
established, which would be a benefit for those working on higher order
A question came up about click and no treat. Karen emphasized this has been a
BIG question and debate among trainers. On the stage sometimes she did click
and not treat, but it was because the dog was offering the behavior and she
wanted to emphasize to the dog she was correct. She said not to make a habit
out of it, though, because then the trainer would most likely cause the dog to
stop working, extinguishing all behavior.
She then showed a video clip on shaping dogs to push a ball. I have to say
the pace and timing were a lot faster than I would have expected. The other
lesson of the video was that the timing was VERY important. Karen said that
the video clip was one that showed excellent timing and it was apparent that
the dog learned the behavior very quickly. She said it was because of the
excellent timing between the "direction of the behavior" and the click. She
again emphasized working the click on the "direction of the behavior" such as
clicking when the dog started to push the ball instead of after.
For getting started with dogs (or any animal, I suppose-- esp those that might
not seem to "want to work") start training with the most delicious food (to
that animal) and right before dinner. Once again she made a point of saying
that if the dog offered the wrong behavior to just ignore it. She also said
not to talk much to the dog/animal while doing the training. She said she
rarely talks as it defocuses the animal and can cause some confusion. Humans
tend to think words are important; animals do not. She said if the talking
was meaningful (such as the "keep going" or "good boy") then do it, if not,
and just idle chatter to keep the trainer's brain company, then KEEP QUIET!!!
Animals think human behavior toward them is important. She did give a lot of
"Good dogs" and praise, but said to keep the rest of the session silent.
Also, once again, she said to make sure to make the session easy for the
animal.. if the dog wandered away, Karen would walk around, make a circle as
to intersect the dog, and offer the target to touch. She said to mix and
match direction approaching the dog, so as to make sure the dog learned the
task, not the environmental cues. Apparently, one dog trainer had his dog
trained to go 20 feet and touch a cone. He moved the cone to 22 feet and sent
to dog to touch. The dog was clueless, looking around and then finally touched
a grid on the floor (so the trainer "knew" how far away 20 feet was) and
consistently returned to that grid time and time again until she became very
frustrated. The trainer had to start at 6 inches and work his way back out to
20 feet before he was sure the dog understood the "touch the cone" task, not
go to 20 feet.
Karen suggested the way to make sure environmental cues were not being
perceived by the animal was to make sure the animal could do the task on the
North wall, South wall, East wall, and West wall of the room. And the walking
around to "help" the dog understand was better than fixing the dog in one
spot. Also, it was interesting that she worked with the Labs separately and
it seemed like the female, the second dog up, was more in tune with the
training than the male. She said animals definitely did learn by observation
and that the reason the female might have been more receptive to the training
was because she had watched her companion going thru the same task of "touch
Some people asked when the best time was to incorporate hand cues. Well, up
went another volunteer. Karen said that she knew what she wanted to do so she
would save time by going on without asking the audience what they wanted to
do. Of course, it was VERY apparent to us what she wanted, but not to the
"animal". She was asking for the person to make a turn to the right down to
sort of a spin. She then incorporated the hand cues AS she worked with the
person.. and not long after the person caught on to what Karen wanted, she
already had subconsciously picked up the hand cue and then Karen developed
that with the clicker after the animal had learned the task. Karen called
this "shaping the cue recognition" or building a cue. At the moment of
insight on the animal, then introduce the verbal or physical cue.
Karen also explained a term "latency". Latency is the time lag between the
cue and the behavior. She showed how to speed up the cue and the behavior,
doing the "come" cue with a nine week old puppy. (the puppy already could do
sit, come, stay and down). What she did was call the puppy to come, which she
already knew and got an excited "about coming" tone to her and backed up as
the puppy came to her. There would be zillions of ways to probably do this,
but the idea was to get the puppy to respond more quickly and enthusiastically
to the "come" command. She said that in order to get the dog moving more
quickly, she would Click! at the first sign of the dog coiling the
hindquarters-- after all that is where the power to move the dog comes from,
so she would reward the hindquarter spring and then shape from that.
She also talked about commands, when to introduce the verbal commands, which
was after the animal was consistently producing the behavior. She said that
cues were different from commands... as animals learn what not to do by a
command such as "NO!" or "STOP" and that the cue was a signal to "do"
something, not stop something. She said that was the difference between
teaching a the animal a concept then putting it on cue. Sort of like
proofing for dogs.. they take the dogs to the field to "proof" their behavior
and I suppose the traditional way is to expose the dog to distractions and
"get after them" for not paying strict attention to the handler. The CT way
is to teach the dog the concept, then go out where there are distractions and
work with the dog in a way that he understands that the trainer's cues are
more important than the environment.. rather than condition the dog into
listening to the trainer because of "what might happen" such as a pinch or a
Karen then showed raw video of Corally Burmaster's mule Ringo... Ringo was
afraid of almost everything, had been abused and forced-- he was so afraid of
people that Corally couldn't even brush him so she thought she would take him
into the washroom and wash the dirt off him, but he had other ideas. He saw
that washroom and backed the entire length of the barn, dragging her with him.
So she got out her clicker and worked getting the mule into the washroom...
Karen suggested that this behavior, after he went in, would be permanent
because the mule chose to go in the washroom on his own; he wasn't coerced or
forced. Therefore, he would probably go into the washroom with a much more
relaxed attitude because the mule had learned to trust the trainer's judgment.
The mule did not learn by rote.. being dragged in every time, with a "you WILL
go in here attitude".
The sequence was like this: (1) Click means treat, (2) mule learned to make
the trainer click, and (3) mule learned what the direction of the desired
behavior was (he learned to "learn" and (4) he made the decision to go into
the washroom on his own, no one forced him. Therefore Ringo had not been
"desensitized" to the washroom, he cognitively understood what he was asked to
do, and complied by doing so on his own.
Karen showed a video of a six week old puppy that Gary Wilkes was teaching to
spin, using a target stick. I was amazed at how fast that little Boston
learned to touch and follow the target stick. So, any animal can be trained
at any age to do something as long as they are physically able to perform the
task, and they have the mental capability to do so.
Another young puppy was brought on stage, a seven month old Australian
Shepherd. She was entranced by the noise, the crowd, the lights, and Karen
went on to explain the "new tank" syndrome.. where the animal is overwhelmed
by the new stimulus and the old behavior disappears. She had the same problem
at Sea Park when she trained the dolphins in one tank and then moved them to
the performance tanks. The animals would seem to forget their training. Once
the animal was comfortable with the new stimulus, the learned behavior would
return. The reason they "forgot" the behaviors was because the new sights and
sounds had to be assimilated into their neural pathways before they could go
back to performing. The owner targeted a few times and the dog went on to
give a stellar performance. The owner was working on the "stack" or the set
up of the dog. She would only C/R the dog for having her front
paws in the proper stance position. Then she had the dog target a laser
pointer.. something that might be handy for getting horses into a trailer,
sort of a "moving" target. The trainer used the pointed to show the dog she
wanted her to go up the steps. Once again, Karen pointed out that the trainer
can click for lots of stuff during a training session.. (1) make sure the
trainer knows specifically what behavior she wants so that she can translate
that to the dog, (2) reinforce those behaviors going toward the final
After this session, Karen also said it is helpful to have a "end session" cue,
sort of by saying, "that's all now" or "Thank you". She also stressed ending
on a jackpot or a good show of insight on a task.
Karen also said it helps to do some research on your animal that you are
working with. Horses live on the plains and tend to be "flight" animals,
whereas burros and donkeys live in mountains and tend to be "stand in place"
animals when frightened (so they don't fall off the cliffs). So for donkeys,
they would be more apt to stand when frightened.. and it would be helpful to
move them around a bit during the session.. lead them or ask them to move with
The next video clip was our own Alexandra and Robin. Alex was teaching Robin
the "retrieve the cone" cue and the "leave it" cue. More examples that "dog"
activities are not just for canines!!!!
The next video involved giraffes in the zoo. For all you who have no place to
put your extra horses while working with one, the giraffe people had the same
problem. Three giraffes and one cage. What they did was have a special
target for each giraffe. The animals soon learned that if their target was
not up, they would not be reinforced. I am going to mention what the targets
were, one was a star shape, one was a milk jug and the other one was a tin
can. The zoo keepers were introducing the giraffes to the stocks where the
animals are vetted and have their feet trimmed. The sequence was much like
loading horses, the giraffes were loaded into the stocks and the doors were
banged about, noises made.. the giraffes were only reinforced when they had
their heads lowered into a relaxed position. Karen also said that the trainer
could have taught the animals their names, and when that name was called, it
was that animal's turn, if the trainer did not want to use targets.
The next video was the Llama video where the young llama learns to come to the
halter, put her nose in the halter and learns to stand while the man buckles
the halter. My favorite line from this video is "if the llama can be
conditioned to run from the halter, they can be conditioned to run TO the
halter." Karen also showed him loading two llamas into a trailer at liberty
at about 40 feet. The trainer had the llamas run to the trailer, get in, turn
around, and come back for a food treat. Advanced exercises had the llama
load, turn around, lay down, get up, then come back for a food treat. The
other llama segment was handling. The llamas in the video were about 2 years
old and had not been handled much before set to the trainer. The segment
showed the trainer asking the llama to stand for handling and the beginning of
picking up the feet.
Karen at this point stressed again, to start where the animal is successful
and move toward your behavior.. at some points this was start at ground zero.
For example, in the llama video, the one young llama would run from the
trainer so he had to find a place where the llama was successful.. when she
would stop and stand, even it was for a second. He clicked that and started
She also brought up the fact that the animal still may not know what he is
getting clicked for, even after reliably performing the behavior, reminding
everyone to do the task in lots and lots of different places to make sure the
animal understands the behavior.
Karen's next video clips were of gerbils trained to go thru a pattern, stand
on a pedestal and swing on a trapeze, and a fish (oscar) trained to go thru a
hoop in his tank on cue. She said that the best way to make sure the training
was moving forward was to keep good records. She trained the oscar to perform
the hoop swim in about 25 one-minute sessions performed twice daily. (about 2
The next video was awesome, a baboon that had diabetes. This animal is very
valuable as a breeding baboon because there are only 18 left in the universe.
The keepers and vet taught the animal to stick his arm in a special sleeve and
grab a "hand hold" at the end of the tube. On the tube was a cut out area
where the blood would be drawn, much in the same place as a human. The baboon
was also trained to turn around and present his buttock for an insulin shot.
This training was done in about 6 weeks. The trainers never went in the cage
with the baboon. The video showed the vets drawing blood and giving the
baboon his shots. Over time, they even eliminated the sleeve and the young
guy just held his arm out for the blood to be drawn. Talk about TRUST!!!!!!!
After that, Karen talked a little about doing behavior chains, teaching them
backwards. The reason to teach the last part first is that the animal is
always getting rewarded for doing part of the chain correctly.. especially at
the end. If the behavior took 6 tasks, teach the last one first, then
introduce the 5th one, move to the 6th one and the animals already know the
6th so it is easy for them to get reinforced. Ordinarily, if they were not
getting the 5th, then they be dropped back to the 4th. For some reason it is
easier for them to learn the 5th, then go to the 6th, a task they are
successful doing.. rather than being successful and going to a task they don't
More videos with our star Alexandra and Robin, her first ride with him and a
subsequent one. The person doing the video was surprised that Robin was so
calm during the session and had a hard time believing he only had a couple
rides on him. Alex was riding him bareback with a halter.
At the end of the session, Karen asked for the naive dogs (2 Labs) to be
brought back. Leo, the male, still was having trouble focussing on the
target, but had no trouble with the steps. The female remembered the target
and was improving over the 10 minute session to where Karen could have her
touch the end of an item that was about 12 inches long. The dog had
transferred over from touching her hand to deliberately touching the end of
the target. She then started to move toward the target as Karen moved back
away from her. Karen said, now the dog understands (or appears to understand)
the task. She did it from about 5 different directions to make sure the
behavior wasn't a learned environmental behavior.. and pronounced that the dog
most likely understood the task.
We then practiced the trainer's game in groups of 6, everyone had a chance to
Karen's last video was a tape of a cat going through a dog agility course,
which was a delight to two wonderful people sitting next to me.. who had a cat
rescue and were hoping that they could work with cats that didn't like to be
touched. They had a hard time placing those cats. After they saw the cat
agility tape, I think they were excited about going home and getting started.
Her last statement to the crowd was "first.. get the behavior....!!!!"
This was a wonderful seminar and I highly recommend attending one.