By Katarina Behan, Guest Blogger and dog trainer at the Gentle Modern School of Dog Training
A number of months ago I was approached to train a pet piglet named Leroy. I saw this as an amazing opportunity to test the method of training I use on dogs on another species. I had heard that pigs are very intelligent, and that they can be trained to perform many different behaviors.
To begin, I wanted to teach Leroy to push a soccer ball around with his nose. In order to do this, I knew I had to use a training tool called a clicker. Clickers are small hand held tools, with a button or stiff strip of metal that once pushed, it makes a distinct click. You may have received one as a child in a party bag.
When you begin using the clicker, you need to ‘charge’ it by clicking and offering your dog (or pig) a bit of food. By repeating this process several times, your dog will begin to anticipate the click with food. Having ‘charged’ the clicker you can now begin to shape
behaviors by marking them with the clicker, then offering the food.
The clicker is a learning tool only, once your dog has learned the behavior, you won’t need to click for it anymore. However, each time you click, you MUST feed, even if you click by accident. This is what gives the clicker its meaning to your dog.
The beauty of the clicker is that it pin-points a behavior, much like taking a photo of exactly what you want your dog to do. The clicker is much more precise than offering food—by the time you offer the food your dog may be doing a completely different behavior.
If you decide to use a clicker you will need to be clear on the goal behavior you have in mind and the steps your dog needs to make towards that goal. Sometimes the clicker can make things more complicated as it is another thing to think about, so start with some easy, fun behaviors first.
I knew the clicker would work well with Leroy, as a pig’s hearing is very good, and I knew we had to be exact in reinforcing the correct behavior so that Leroy could make the connection between his behavior and the food.
I have posted a short video on YouTube of Leroy pushing the ball around. You can see it by clicking here. You will notice that the click comes when Leroy pushes the ball. We began (in an earlier session) by clicking when Leroy simply touched the ball with his nose. Once that was happening constantly, we started to click when he would push the ball. As time progresses, we need to teach Leroy that he has to push the ball more than once to get the click. This is how you can shape your dog’s behavior. Start with something easy first, then work up to your goal.
You will notice that when Leroy hears the click he goes in to get the food. He knows that pushing the ball will elicit a click and then food will be offered. Very smart indeed!
Katarina Behan operates the Gentle Modern School of Dog Training, and has been a dog trainer for over nine years. Katrina’s site Dog Life Training was created to give people a free resource to better understand their dog so that life becomes more enjoyable for both. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband, five year old daughter, 10 month old Irish Setter, Spencer the Burmese cat, and Norbert the Bearded Dragon.
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