Breed Intelligence and Clicker Training
People often ask me how Foxy is so obedient. They want to know if she is just naturally smart, or does she have a great trainer. The answer is both! Foxy is of the terrier breed which is extremely reward motivated. Secondly, I studied ways to train her using positive reinforcement and clicker-training. Having an obedient and well trained dog can mean safety for your pet, not to mention easier to photograph!
Part I: Dog Intelligence
Some dog breeds are more genetically disposed to be teachable. Of course owners have a hand in nurturing the best out of their dog, but dogs historically are bred to be companions, hunt, bred, or retrieve. Depending what blood your dog has, it will be more likely to want to work and please you.
Studies show that out of 110 breeds, the top dogs that absorbed commands in less than five repetition and obeyed them 95% of the time or better are the following types of dogs and their description according to the American Kennel Club:
1. Border Collie: A workaholic, this breed is the world’s premier sheep herder, prized for its intelligence, extraordinary instinct, and working ability.
2. Poodle: Exceptionally smart and active. Bred to retrieve things from the water. The miniature variety may have been used for truffle hunting.
3. German Shepherd: The world’s leading police, guard, and military dog — and a loving family companion and herder.
4. Golden Retriever: Intelligent and eager to please. Bred as a hunting companion; ideal as a guide and as assistance with search-and-rescue operations.
5. Doberman Pinscher: Known for its stamina and speed. Bred to be a guardian and in demand as a police and war dog.
6. Shetland Sheepdog: The “Sheltie” is essentially a miniature working Collie. A rough-coated, longhaired working breed that is keenly intelligent. Excels in herding.
7. Labrador Retriever: An ideal sporting and family dog. Gentle and intelligent.
8. Papillon: A happy, alert breed that isn’t shy or aggressive. Known as Dwarf Spaniels in the 16th and 17th centuries, they reach 8-11 inches high.
9. Rottweiler: Robust and powerful, the breed is happiest with a job. Suitable as a police dog, herder, service dog, therapy dog, obedience competitor, and devoted companion.
10. Australian Cattle Dog: Happiest doing a job like herding, obedience, or agility. Energetic and intelligent.
Part II: Starmark Clicker Training
Dogs can easily learn sit, stay, shake, leave it by receiving positive reinforcement in the form of praise or treats. Clicker training takes that one step further by using behavioral psychology to mark the desired behavior at a more precise moment. The “clicker” is a mechanical device that makes a short click noise to tell your pet when they are doing the right thing. It is much more clear using this to communicate “good boy” or a pat on the head because it sounds the same every single time. Clicker training was originated by two graduate students of psychologist B.F. Skiner who trained military pigeons!
I picked up a Starmark Clicker at my local pet supply store– really any clicker brand will do the job. I clicked and rewarded her with a treat 10 times for three sessions to associate the clicker sounds as a food reward. Then I proceeded to practice training her using a clicker instead of verbal or petting. First you click, then reward with food. Gradually you will just use the clicker alone as a reward, and use food sporadically to keep her alert. See a simple instructional video here.
Foxy already knew how to sit, stay and shake. I’ve trained Foxy to fetch, retrieve, jump over obstacles, and close cabinet doors. She really enjoys the mental exercise and loves drills. I’ve found that after using the clicker, Foxy will still respond to all that she’s learned even if I don’t use the clicker.
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