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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Changing how I train Knightley

13 weeks 2 days old

Since the first days of training Knightley, he hasn't been particularly switched on by training sessions. I have already talked on here at some length about the difficultly in finding a treat that Knightley could really like and now I look back upon my techniques, in a way I used that difficulty as an excuse for his slight passiveness - and didn't really try to change anything about the way I was actually doing the training sessions.

In a way, I don't blame myself much. Those first couple of weeks with Knightley were very exhausting, and I don't think I could have mustered up the extra energy for the approach I am using now. I had been thinking a lot about Knightley and I, and made a post on the yahoo list for those who are following Sue Ailsby's Training Levels. It helped further challenge my expectations of myself, of Knightley and also after some thought, gave me some ideas for changing our training sessions in order to get him "in the game".

These are the major changes I've put in place:
  • I now stop sessions while he is wanting more (before I sometimes continued until he was reluctant)
  • I now stand to train him, and keep moving around (before I used to train sitting, as I know many other trainers do)
  • I now talk a LOT, and make lots of fuss over right things, especially any breakthroughs. This is to keep him engaged and keep his enthusiasm. Talking is generally considered a no no for clicker training (before I generally trained in semi silence except for effusive praise when he had done something really good)
  • I am temporarily using the marker "yes" more often than clicking, as it seems to be more effective. I think this may be because the clickers I have are of the "i-click" type and so are rather quiet. Knightley is completely sound proof and I think they are just a bit wishy washy for him. I have ordered two clickers of the loud type. (Clickers are considered a better marker of desireable behaviour than your voice, because your voice changes, and reflects your mood, and possibly your frustration with your dog! A consistent marker is the cornerstone of this type of training, called operant conditioning)
  • I try to keep the behaviours varied, when not learning something new. In the past we might review zen by doing three in a row. Now I will do one zen, then a touch while moving my hand so he has to chase after it which he loves, then a down, then another zen..... I have realised he much prefers the active behaviours, so I mix them all up.
  • I have made his main mealtime food more boring in the hope that he will see treats as exactly that - treats!! His meals were (on breeders advice) kibble, soaked well in warm water, with a bit of puppy milk, and a couple of tea spoons of wet dog food. I slowly weaned him off the puppy milk bit by bit (he didn't appreciate that change!), and then slowly reduced the amount of wet dog food I was giving him. Last night was his first kibble only meal, which he ate happily. Previously he had refused kibble point blank. We'll see if it helps.
These changes have already made some big differences. Before the changes, there was very little wagging and doggy grinning during our sessions. Now the tail rarely stops, and that is something really important to me. I think clicker training can give that happy tail wagging 'this is a fun game' feel to a dog, unlike any other training method. My previous dog was trained fairly traditionally (with some luring), and I can tell you, he didn't particularly enjoy being pushed and prodded and jerked into various behaviours. Once he had learnt them, he could enjoy more, but the process can be so much more fun for both partners!

The approach kind of proved itself when I started teaching the beginning of paw targeting. Knightley didn't get it on our first day, but second day, bam bam bam, his rather large paws were hitting the lid I was using again and again and his tail was going happily. In the past new behaviours took longer and were something that didn't make him happy.... they tended to turn him off and make him a little unwilling to continue. So that was exciting. I made some videos of Knightley doing the OL1 (Old Level 1) behaviours the other day, but I need to actually make them into a proper movie before posting them.

We are working hard on LLW and also on keeping under threshold whilst outside. He certainly isn't great at taking treats outside, which is a good indication of being over threshold. Lots more work to do there.

He is definitely growing up, there is more maturity there. Not to say he is sometimes still a real devil... but he is generally less work than he was those first few weeks. We've had him 5 weeks now, which means he just turned 13 weeks old. He is growing so very fast it scares me! It is to the point I am really not a fan of picking him up anymore. They say on a slow growth plan he should be about half his adult weight at 4 months, and that should be about right - maybe a touch under.

Anyway, he is my adorable Knightley, and our bond is becoming very close already. I miss him whenever I leave the house and can't wait to see him again.


  1. Glad to here Nightley is enjoying his training. I have always talked to and gotten excited with my dogs during clicker training sessions. I didn't realize there were trainers who suggested being quiet. I have found my dogs wanting to do more and showing pride in themselves, when I am also excited and want to do more. My 8 year old female lab is a great example of this, she was trained by a guide dog program using the traditional yank and force method, we started learning clicker training together about 3 or 4 years ago. Since our change over, she's excited to "work" and is eager to learn new things. Just the other day, I taught her to close cupboard doors in 5 minutes with excitement and of course treats, but she was all over the excitement more than the treats.

    Looking forward to reading more about your adventures with Nightley.

    Brooke, Cessna, Aspen, Canyon & Rogue

  2. Hi Brooke (is that your name??)
    Yeah, quite a few books etc recommend keeping quiet except for *occasional* praise and of course, the clicking. So that's how I started out, and it just hasn't worked for us. Knightley obviously needs more stimulation. You make a good point about your dogs being excited and wanting to do more when *you* are excited and wanting to do more. They are such sensitive receptors that I guess we need to concentrate on making the training fun for not just them, but for us too - or they will know!

    Very nice with the cupboard doors. Just don't teach her to open them unless you really need her to do it!! I know those lab reputations lol.


  3. Yes, Brooke is my name :)

    Luckily Cessna is not really a "typical" lab. She really isn't into treats or food like a lab, so teaching her to open and close cupboards shouldn't be too much of an issue. we'll make sure tugs aren't on the cupboard door handles though when we don't want her doing it lol!