In the show ring, it's often that "watch me" attitude which captures the judge and spectators' attention, sending one dog to the front of the line over other excellent dogs.
Is that winning attitude and presence something a dog must be born with, or can it be taught? Biologist and behaviorist karen Pryor, whose articles on this topic have appeared in the AKC GAZETTE, not only believes it can be learned, but explains in step-by-step fashion how to easily and quickly capture that almost indefinable essence, in her book, Click to Win, on clicker training for the show ring.
Clicker training is a way to isolate tiny pieces of behavior, capturing them quickly with a bright, metallic click sound that tells the dog exactly what it's being rewarded for doing. It's like saying "Good boy!" in a more precise way.
With the clicker, we can capture that bright, effervescent moment the dog offers when it is excited, enthused, and animated. We can then put those behaviors "on cue" so that with a subtle signal, we can get that exact behavior repeated when we want it most-in the show ring.
The click isolates a moment in time, like the click of a camera. Whatever the dog is doing at the exact moment it hears that click is what will be remembered, and it will offer again to earn another click and food treat.
In essence, what you click is what you get. If you "click" as you open the refrigerator, for example, you may see your dog jump to attention, cocking his yead to a slight angle, giving you eye contact, and trying to charm you into giving him a treat.
With the clicker you can capture many such moments the dog naturally offers, and put them all on a signal or cue for use at a later date in the show ring. That beautiful spring to the step, the proud head and ear position, lofty tail-set, and natural effervescence-all are "clickable" elements dogs can learn to offer when the cue is given by the handler.
Clicker training may well offer just the tool and method to bring out sparkle, brilliance, and precise behaviors that help your dog stand out from the rest of the pack. Click to Win is available in bookstores or through Karen Pryor's website, www.clickertraining.com . Wonderful articles can also be found for free on the Clicker Solutions web site at www.clickersolutions.com . Sparkling, winning attitude capturing the spirit of your breed may be only a click away.
Papillon breed columnist, AKC Gazette
Clicker service dog trainer