This is the first blog of many in which I will discuss what I refer to as Clean Training Practices or CTPs. My students are always hearing me talk about doing things “cleaner,” and it’s time to talk about what that means.
When talking about clicker training we often say or hear the phrase “click and treat,” which is actually meant to imply “click THEN treat,” if we are being accurate. Since most people who learn clicker training have some background in lure-reward methods of dog training they learned at some point that it is imperative to get the treat to the dog in a timely manner. In lure-reward the treat should happen instantly–as soon as the behavior is achieved–and this is easily done because the reinforcement was on the dog’s nose the whole time. Lure dog into sit with cookie, pop cookie into dog’s mouth; pretty simple. In fact, in lure-based training it is the lure being released to the dog what gives her the information to repeat a behavior; instant cookie *is* a CTP in lure-reward scenarios! So when trainers well-versed in luring learn clicker training and they hear “click and treat” they are pretty sure it would be good to get that treat straight to the dog ASAP, just like before, which is a logical line of thinking. The part that isn’t often communicated is that the click gives the dog the same information that the lure delivery does, which means two things that we care about. First, it means that the information is provided by the click, so the treat can come to the dog with some delay. Second, it means if the trainer gives the treat to the dog as quickly as she might in a lure-reward scenario, she risks the treat overshadowing the relevance of the click. The click and the treat actually are two separate events, and need to be kept that way in order for your training to be clean. This is why the click is often referred to as a “bridge”–it bridges the correct behavior to the reinforcement in the dog’s mind.
Ok, now that all that background as to “why” we need to be clicking THEN treating is out of the way, let’s look at some real examples of keeping that reinforcement delivery cleanly detached from our marker (or bridge) signals.
In its most basic application, this CTP means keep your hand out of your treat pouch! When training, most of us will have a hand we prefer to click with and a hand we prefer to treat with. I typically switch it up depending on what I am doing, but let’s just say I click with my left hand and treat with my right. That means while I am clicking my right hand should be still at my side. If it is fumbling through my treat pouch or reaching for another treat I risk distracting my learner from the marker signal; and this holds even more true for non-dog species.
Here, I am working on a back foot target with my puppy, Felix. I have my treats sitting in a dish to my right side (out of shot) and each time a back foot hits the blue lid I click, reach for a treat, then place the treat directly in front of me on the ground.
In this video, watch as I work some loose lead walking with Felix. I click, reach into my pouch, and deliver a treat.
The click THEN treat practice is important for non-food reinforcement, too! Watch in this video how clear it is to Felix that after the click he has permission to grab the toy. That’s the result of solid mechanics over time and some great toy skill work.
Watch for more CTPs in the coming weeks!