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AROUND TOWN: Frustrated dog owners click with new training method

From Shelley Lane
Reprinted with permission from The Villager


Doug Compton was at his wit’s end with his 2-year-old Labrador retriever, Hershey.

According to Compton, after Hershey was attacked by a German shepherd that jumped a fence, she became very aggressive out on walks when another dog was within a couple of blocks. When Compton’s veterinarian referred him to Vicky Kirkland, a Dog Trainer in Littleton who practices “clicker” training, he was willing to try anything.

“The first thing I did was get rid of the pincher prong collar that Hershey was wearing and replace it with a ‘gentle leader’ collar, which is comfortable but still tells the dog that the owner is in control,” Kirkland said. Kirkland then started a reconditioning program to desensitize Hershey with clicker techniques.

Clicker training is a method that uses a small device that makes a clicking sound and then rewards the dog with a treat, said Kirkland. “the dog owner should click during the desired behavior, not afterwards,” Kirkland said. “Good behaviors will increase when the owner clicks and treats the dog as it does something positive such as sitting or staying.” Bad behaviors are ignored – no yelling at the dog, no eye contact and no hitting the dog, Kirkland said.

“Clicker training is a real fun way to train a dog,” said Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., of Animal Behavior Associates in Littleton. It is ta process that provides the dog with positive reinforcement and also involves ignoring behaviors you don’t want, according to Hetts. “We first worked with Hershey to settle her down and have her concentrate on me instead of her surroundings,” said Compton.

“The thing I like about the clicker training is that it’s easy – you don’t have to be a trainer to do it. I was really impressed with the results.”

After Vicky worked with Hershey on day in Compton’s neighborhood, he enrolled the dog in Kirkland’s training classes. “At first, Doug had to keep her far away from the rest of the dogs,” Kirkland said. Hershey was able to relinquish her aggressive behavior around other dogs by about the fourth or fifth class, said Kirkland.

Clicker training is different from standard of traditional dog training in that no deprivation is used, according to Karen Pryor (author of the book “Don’t Shoot The Dog!”) in her 1997 acceptance speech at the Animal Behavior Society convention in Chicago. “While reprimands might still occur during daily life, we omit punishment and avoid negative reinforcement as much as possible as an instructional tool,” Pryor said in her speech. “One result is that we are seeing very clearly in our dogs the phenomenon of accelerated done by the College of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University. The study says that obedience training is one of the factors that seems to reduce the number of dogs given up to animal shelters.

“Owner commitment is the key. I believe that owners that take their dogs to training will be much more successful in getting good behaviors out of their dog,” said Dori Villalon, associate director of The Humane Society of Boulder Valley. “we use clicker trainer Vicky Kirkland as one of our dog trainers. People are just amazed at what we can do with the dogs that are clicker-trained. For so long we were training the wrong way, telling the dog what they did wrong. Now we reward the dogs with click and treat training. It’s a great tool.”

Good trainers use techniques that are not unpleasant to either pet owner or pet, according to Leslie Sinclair, D.V.M., in his article “Dog Behavior and Training: Mending a Pet’s Wild Ways.” Sinclair is the director of Companion Animal Care at the Humane Society of the United States. “Pet owners should look for trainers or behaviorists who use non-harmful and humane methods. Recommendations that involve choking, hitting or slap an animal or the use of long-term confinement or isolation as a punishment indicate little or no understanding of animal behavior,” Sinclair said.

If you are interested in more information on clicker training or to enroll in a clicker training class, contact Vicky Kirkland in Littleton at A Wagging Success, 303-730-6042.