Interview with Lana Mitchell

This interview with Lana Mitchell was carried out on 18th July 1999 in The Dog House chatroom. Lana Mitchell is an American Clicker Trainer and has written many good books on the subject, including The Practical Clicker Training Guide.

Gill123: Is everyone ready to start?

Alyssa8: can you housetrain using a clicker?… how would you go about introducing it?

lmitchell: I believe you can housetrain using an event marker – maybe not a clicker

Alyssa8: event marker?

barbara5: what do you mean event marker?

lmitchell: I use Keep going signals more than clickers for that sort of thing – I don’t want the puppy to quit “going” to come and get a cookie. The clicker is an event marker

barbara5: I thought so it makes him realize what he’s doing is the right thing, right?

Alyssa8: but he’s got to be conditioned with the clicker first, right?

lmitchell: the kgs (keep going signal) tells him that AND to keep doing it. How about a basic clicker training thought from me

Alyssa8: PLEASE

lmitchell: Okay – hang on… Operant conditioning with an event marker = clicker training the dog offers a condition (behaviour) and the clicker marks it. The clicker has meaning because it is always followed by something the dog wants – cookies normally The dog eventually works for the clicker, but only because he was conditioned to do so by having it followed with cookies. That’s my nutshell observation – complete with typos.

Alyssa8:makes perfect sense. well said

barbara5: so when the dog is pottying outside, you’d click when he was finished and give him a cookie?

Alyssa8:mor while he’s going?

barbara5: and then when he’s finished you give him a cookie?

lmitchell: As soon as the dog starts to potty outside I quietly give him a keep going signal – “gooood” or “that’s it”. When is complete done, then I reinforce him with the clicker and a small party.

barbara5: so you don’t click until the end?

lmitchell: The clicker aborts whatever behaviour the dog is performing when he hears it. Some puppies will learn to go sporadically – a dribble here and there if clicked too early in the process. END

Gill123: Thanks lana

Alyssa8: great. thanks lana

barbara5: Ok, my question is, can you phase out the snacks and eventually does the clicker become the reward?

lmitchell: No. The clicker should never be the reward. Remember the role of the clicker.

barbara5: so you give him a cookie every time you use the clicker?

lmitchell: It means Well Done! and is followed with cookies. If it is not followed by cookies (or something the dog will work to get) it has no power. It would be like getting your pay check and finding out it is not worth money at the bank.

leroydogg: surely it’s best to just give fuss if that is sufficient for the individual dog, rather than getting into

barbara5: so really, you use other markers like well done and at the end give the clicker and the treat. For instance, walking on loose lead.

lmitchell: Whatever the dog will work for. I have a sheltie who will work to see me smile – Chloe will work for dry dog food -Saucy, my hound, wants liver. It is the clicker that is faded, rather than the primary reinforcement that follows it. We put the click on a variable schedule, but not the primary reinforcement – that’s what keeps the dog working over long periods.

Gill123: Its what the dog WANTS, not what you think it should have that is classed as a reward

lmitchell: Yes, Gill

Gill123: Does everyone understand this?

lmitchell: Too many people want their dogs to work for wieners when the dog would give them much more if they just used liver occasionally.

Gill123: thanks Lana, that ok Barbara?

Alyssa8: I’ve heard you’re supposed to wait longer & longer before giving the reward…..what’s that about?

lmitchell: Delaying the click – not the primary reinforcement, will give something new. Varying the reinforcement ALWAYS varies the behavior – an important fact to keep in mind If I’m teaching a down, for instance… The dog will always jump up at the sound of the click – he should So, how do I keep him down for a few minutes? I vary the reinforcement

Alyssa8: delay the click?

lmitchell: I click later.

barbara5: so he stays down till you click?

lmitchell: The dog will “time out” if I normally click him after 5 seconds and jump up then I wait. He offers another down, because that is what he’s been reinforced for I click. Now he knows to wait for the click – an implied down stay.

Alyssa8: wow. makes perfect sense when you explain it. thanks, lana

Gill123: Thanks

Doghouse86: Hi Lana

lmitchell: Hi

Doghouse86: My question is also about continuing actions. How do you get a dog to walk on a loose lead?

lmitchell: Loose lead walking – one of the questions I am asked most.

Doghouse86: I see how to make him wait for the click but how do you start the behaviour?

lmitchell: First – this is going to be long, so hang on. Making like a tree doesn’t work with clicker training and here’s why. The dog is really the training in operant conditioning training. He GIVES behaviors that will cause the human to click. So, dogs will pull, stop pulling, and look back, waiting for the click. – they are very good trainers.

Doghouse86: yes I have tried this

lmitchell: I use the backward walking technique where I start at a starting line and as soon as the dog pulls I back up behind my starting line. My only words of interaction with the dog are my verbal “Let’s Go” command to start walking. In about 4 of these go back behind the starting line episodes, the dog realizes he has gained no ground. About two more and he realizes his pulling has caused it. I don’ t start forward until the dog is not sniffing or pulling and he quickly tries to get into a position to MAKE me start.

barbara5: every time? so you go back to the very start every time he pulls?

lmitchell: This works better than anything – I start clicking and feeding after the dog is training me to do so … I often use a target – a food bowl so he pulls in an anticipated direction.

Alyssa8: oh what a GREAT idea!!!!!!

lmitchell: I go back every time he pulls. I work this in 40′ lengths, I then take it “on the road” so he knows the rules apply elsewhere.

Alyssa8: Gill’s old standby…..try it in at least three places so they realize it’s not site-specific

barbara5: oh, so if he gets 40 feet the first time, and starts pulling you go back to the start, but then if he gets 80 feet do you go back 40 feet or all the way???

lmitchell: I don’t work 80 foot lengths – only 40 maximum. Later on, I merely have to bend my wrist and take a half step backward – the dog literally jumps into position to get me to walk.

Doghouse86: Thank you so much Lana I will try this

Gill123: good explanation Lana, thanks.

barbara5: Tina, I guess its your turn

Tina123: I would like to know what you think are the top 3 most important clicker concepts for a instructor to get across to a clicker class. i.e.. targeting, shaping, capturing, luring, etc. and why?

barbara5: good question, Tina!

lmitchell: Easy… The clicker ALWAYS aborts the behavior The clicker is ALWAYS followed with a primary reinforcement The clicker never lies to the dog – it ALWAYS means those two things One more – my own dogs. When they see a clicker in my hand it signals them that I’m looking for new behaviors only.

Tina123: simpler then I thought thanks!

lmitchell: Now, I know that didn’t answer your question – so you may reword it if you want.

barbara5: oh. I see. it’s not to continue rewarding a behavior they already know.

Tina123: I was also just thinking of the most important (maybe easiest) to start with for pet dogs. i.e. targeting ,luring etc

lmitchell: No, to keep the clicker in all the time would mean always having to click a behavior.

barbara5: so once a dog learns a behaviour, do you stop rewarding?

lmitchell: We fade the clicker quickly, so the dog doesn’t have to always be reinforced for it.

barbara5: ok. I think I’m beginning to get it.

lmitchell: At my workshops I have Chloe perform up to 50 separate behaviors on command with no reinforcements at all.

Alyssa8: so you basically teach the behavior, then assume she’s already got it and lose the clicker?

lmitchell: This is to show people that clicker-trained dogs are not dependant upon the clicker or cookies, but are trained “normal” dogs. I use verbal reinforcements (“yes”) and keep going signals.

barbara5: if a dog starts to “backslide” what do you do.

lmitchell: Dogs don’t backslide – either they know the behaviour or they don’t. If they don’t, they were weaned off reinforcement before they learned.

Alyssa8: but what if they choose not to listen unless you’re click/treat?

lmitchell: What if they choose not to listen? Many people using clicker are using them before the behaviour to get the dog’s attention. This is not correct use. Correct use is to wait for a behaviour or lure, model, or guide for a behaviour and then click.

Gill123: Ok looks like CHRIS 7 is going to ask his question

Chris7: How do you sharpen someone’s use of the clicker ?

lmitchell: A good way to sharpen your use of the clicker is to play the shaping game with humans and with as many animals as you can. Start with very simple behaviours – touching nose to hand (dog)

Gill123: I love that game!

lmitchell: It is a very worthwhile game to play – allows you to see how the clicker works and learn about your own timing.

barbara5: could you explain a little more

lmitchell: Explain a little more – about the shaping game?

barbara5: yes I don’t’ know what you mean.

lmitchell: Here’s a quick picture – Several people get together and take turns being the trainer and the subject. Each subject is trained to perform a simple behavior – touch something, clap hands, stand on one foot. While the trainer is working, the others look on and “see the forest for the trees”. Trainers often cannot “see” what the problem is because they are too closely involved That’s why it helps to have people watch and learn and offer suggestions.

Gill123: Ok everyone happy with that?

Tina123: If you could pick your ideal number of dogs in a beginner class how many would it be?

lmitchell: I like 6 in a beginner class – I’ve done up to 10, but no more.

Tina123: thanks

Bayfield: any suggestions for those of us with poor eye/hand coordination?

lmitchell: Poor eye/hand coordination – practice, practice, practice. Let your dog let you know. Also, don’t despair. I have a friend who always clicks late – her terriers have adapted to it and are doing fine. BUT she is consistently late, not just sometimes – that is the key for her…

Bayfield: yes, my dogs are very patient with me

Gill123: thanks, you’re an angel

lmitchell: Gee – Thanks guys

AlyssaKay: thanks……is it possible to Clicker train two dogs at the same time? or do I have to train them each separately?

lmitchell: I have trained two dogs simultaneously for a behaviour here and there I don’t recommend it for serious behaviours, though. My advice is to always have one dog out at a time, shape the behaviour on each, and then put them together if it is a multi-dog behaviour that you are shaping.

AlyssaKay: ok for introducing clicker training or should I wait until they understand the whole concept one at a time?

lmitchell: I’m teaching my dogs to jump over each other, but am teaching it one dog at a time until it is “known” to each When a dog starts to learn about clicker training, he is fragile I would keep that part separate, for sure. I’m not saying it won’t work. I just go for the best results rather than just some results.

AlyssaKay: right. thanks… LOL……what a great idea! sounds like lots of fun. thanks lana, point taken.

Gill123: Anyone else for a last question?

leroydogg: question

Gill123: Ok Chris

leroydogg: Where d’ye buy a clicker

lmitchell: Direct Book Service, Sit Stay Go Out Store .. Both are on-line.

AlyssaKay: I got mine from J&J Dog Supplies online..

lmitchell: Karen Pryor’s site has then, too.

leroydogg: Thanks

Gill123: Lana – have you made a video on clicker training?

lmitchell: I’m just going “public” with sales on my site this year and will be selling goodies with plastic.

Gill123: Great – let me know when you do please

AlyssaKay: ooh! one more, one more! (waving hand frantically)

Gill123: OK Alyssa

AlyssaKay: any books YOU would recommend on training? clicker or otherwise?

lmitchell: Of course I recommend my own Practical Clicker Training Guide a general “bible” for new clicker trainers. Morgan’s book on competition training is good. It has good information on clicker training for obedience in the US.

AlyssaKay: would that apply to dogs who aren’t necessarily training for competition or obedience?

lmitchell: Just about anything by Karen is a good read most of it doesn’t have to do directly with clicker training, but none of it is bad information to know.

AlyssaKa: so it all applies. that’s good to know. thanks, lana – I can’t wait to read your bible

Gill123: You ever been to the UK Lana?

lmitchell: Never been to the UK. Sorry….. Alyssa – your question about good for dogs not training for competition – my book would be, yes, and Karen’s also.

AlyssaKay: thanks, Lana. sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the amount of info that’s out there in books!

lmitchell: I know what you mean about the books.

leroydogg: by the time you finish reading, you haven’t time to do the work

lmitchell: I own many of them but have read very few. I tend to learn by the seat of my pants, so to speak.

AlyssaKay: exactly. and no matter what you read, it always seems to contradict SOMETHING that works with your dogs.

Gill123: that sounds like me Lana! and just when I think I’ve got it right – a dog tells me otherwise

lmitchell: I collect antique training books. They are very interesting. Believe it or not, the books written in the 20’s to 40’s taught motivational methods.

Bayfield: that’s why I like the Behaviour-Problems forum. It’s consistent, therefore less confusing for me (and the canines)

leroydogg: I need a foot up the seat of my pants for all the mistakes i’ve made

LadyMax: My question is can you train a dog with a clicker and use normal training methods. My club does not yet use clickers

lmitchell: Can you train a dog with a clicker and use normal training methods. What are Normal training methods?

LadyMax: Praise and reward I do not want to use a clicker in the class as with the pup I am training I am a student at the moment, taking advice from a senior trainer

lmitchell: Here’s what I did as a clicker trainer. I had a favorite trainer because she was a perfectionist – like me. She did not believe in the clicker. I taught it at home the week before, took my little Star of a dog to class, and had the benefit of a great trainer and a clicker trained dog. When she recommended leash pops and pinch collars I merely stated I would work on it at home – and I did.

leroydogg: leash pops?

lmitchell: I can tell you that leash pops (collar jerks) and clicker don’t mix.

LadyMax: Did you use the clicker in the class?

lmitchell: I used my verbal click – since these were “known” behaviors, the clicker was already being faded. I said “yes” for click and “that’s it” for a KGS.

LadyMax: I have to confess that | am not very good at leash pops (too much of a softy with the dogs)

lmitchell: Me too – not always, but in recent years. There’s usually a better way than force.

AlyssaKay: better to be a softy than hurt your dog,

lmitchell: An ill-timed click has never turned a dog off to training.

Gill123: Better to use brain than brawn

LadyMax: So if I told Benji that he was ‘good’ when I click then when I go to class I just have to use ‘good’ instead of a click

lmitchell: Pair the verbal click with the clicker just as you paired the primary reinforcer with the clicker. The verbal will mean click to the dog, but will still abort the behavior, etc. END

Gill123: Well Lana, I’m sure you now feel thoroughly exhausted.. I think its time we let you go back to your life.. Thank you so much for joining us with your wisdom

AlyssaKay: thank you SO Much lana!!!

leroydogg: Yes, thank you

Tina123: Thanks very much Lana

Bayfield: good to know that even I can succeed with clicker training. Thanks, Lana

AlyssaKay: what great advice…..I can’t wait to start using my clicker (was kind of afraid to “screw it up” but now I see you can’t go wrong – just a few missteps here & there)

Chris7: Thank you Lana I will work on the Aussie trip

lmitchell: Thank you all for the good questions.

LadyMax: I enjoyed the bit I managed to see, thank you. Pity we can’t train computers to behave themselves

lmitchell: Computers are easy – you just have to know where to kick ’em. I wish I could have covered more – another day.

AlyssaKay: you covered plenty. I can’t wait to read your- book……hopefully we’ll see you again if you ever have the time

lmitchell: Okay, I’ll go give my fingers a rest – until we “meet again”

Gill123: Its been a learning curve and thoroughly enjoyable experience.. Bye