The olfactory power of dogs has made headlines again this month, with new research supporting our canine friends' ability to "sniff out" the presence of cancer. While these findings continue to astonish many, one aspect won't surprise fans of operant conditioning: the dogs in this study were clicker trained.
The best example of a clicker trained dog that I know personally is Lynn Gardner's Aussie rescue named Maggie Mae, in Ontario. Maggie's owner has trained her to recognize over 200 cues, and often does clicker demos with her in schools. Maggie's click is the blink of a flashlight, just a regular pen light pointed at her; and most of her cues are American Sign Language words. The trainer holds the light in one hand along with the target stick if using one; and treats in the other, just as we do with target and clicker. The dog has to be watching the trainer to see the blink, but she watches very carefully, you may be sure! Once when Maggie was sitting in front of Lynn, at attention, Lynn gave her a hand signal, and the dog rolled over on one haunch and scratched herself. I couldn't help but ask, "What was THAT signal?" "Relax," said Lynn.
Size—it's all relative
Ten years ago I was introduced to my first Rhodesian ridgeback. Actually, I met two ridgebacks then—stunning males a year apart and known as brothers, even though they weren't related. Their names were Luca Brasi and Clemenza (fans of The Godfather will understand). The dogs belonged to my boyfriend, Jim, who is now my husband. Jim adored "the boys," and I felt the same way the instant I met them.
Both dogs came bounding up for their share of attention. I received the "hound handshake"—noses in my private parts coupled with inquisitive head turns as they scoped me out. Since I worked at Brookfield Zoo, I am sure there were many enticing odors on my clothes and shoes.
Wouldn't it be great if your dog came with a big dial on his or her back that told you exactly how anxious, frightened, or excitable he or she was? Wouldn't it be awesome if you could turn this dial and calm your dog?