June 17, 2009
Can You Clicker-Train a Gun Dog?
By David DiBenedetto
Before I brought Pritch home a few months ago I hardly knew anything about clicker training. As I’ve mentioned, I had been out of the game for some years and many of my early mentors were devoted to old-school training methods. So yesterday morning I watched with interest when clicker-guru Karen Pryor was introduced on “Good Morning America” to give a demonstration and shill for her new book, Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us About All Animals.
I’ve done some research and understand the basics of the method, but for those of you who haven’t, here is what the publisher of the book has to say:
“Karen [Pryor] can teach anyone to train animals with a cheap, plastic, handheld clicker, rewarding wanted behaviors—click!—and ignoring the unwanted. No leash-jerking. No pushing. No smacking. Animals quickly learn that one behavior gets them a reinforcing click and a bit of food, and undesirable behaviors get them, well, nothing at all. Given the choice, animals quickly focus on what works and abandon what doesn’t.”
I will also say that Pryor seems to be a self-promotion savant, as she has cornered the market on anything clicker. Want to train your parrot? Get a clicker. Want to train your rat? (I’m not making this up.) Get a clicker. There’s even a book called Positive Gun Dogs (though not written by Pryor) about clicker training. And while I love the idea of force-free training, especially with a spaniel, I just can’t seem to wrap my head around this method in a hunting situation.
So, herewith the Hump Day Discussion, my question is this: Is there a serious place for clicker training with gun dogs? Does a clicker do what a whistle can’t? Don’t hold back gang. Good or bad, let’s hear your thoughts.