Those words have been ringing in my ear for the past week. In the same day two friends of mine reached out to me asking for help with their dogs, and both of them told me that they had tried clicker training and it didn’t work.
In a day and age where my colleagues and I are working like crazy to promote dog-friendly training methods, this phrase is hard to swallow. I have seen with my own eyes that marker (clicker) training can work on any animal – from sting rays to elephants to hermit crabs – so for someone to tell me it “didn’t work” on their dog, I am a little skeptical.
The first and most important question I raise when someone tells me a certain training method didn’t work is: did you work with a professional? I’m not talking about someone who calls themselves a dog trainer because they have x amount of years experience “training” dogs. I’m talking about a person who is certified by a reputable organization and who has had their training skills tested and evaluated to make sure they know what they are talking about. While the basic concept of marker training is easy – mark and reward the behavior you like – the execution can be tricky if you’ve never practiced. Furthermore, timing and mechanics are essential in communicating to your dog what you want them to know. This is why working with a professional is so important; so they can tell you how to improve your communication skills.
I remember a similar realization from when I rode horses growing up. I would have my weekly lessons, and then in between each lesson I’d ride on my own and practice what I’d learned. At the next lesson my instructor would fix everything I’d been doing incorrectly while I practiced on my own. Usually it was something I didn’t realize I was doing, wouldn’t notice without being able to watch myself ride or didn’t know I should be doing differently. That is what I hired my instructor for, after all! I could read books about the correct dressage seat until I was blue in the face, but nothing could replace what I would learn from working with a professional.
Training your dog is no different than any other skill you are trying to learn. Sure, you can read about it on the internet or in books or watch it on tv (cringe), but without consulting someone with an education and credentials on the subject, it is likely that you won’t get the results you are looking for. I absolutely love that people want to work with their dogs and take a stab at it on their own – I just hope they ask for help before writing off reward-based training. So many people are blown away by what can happen when we finally find what motivates their dog, they just need a little guidance – and that’s what good dog trainers love to help with!
To find a certified trainer in your area, check out the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.