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Clicker for Veterinary Students: Experimental Tufts Class

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Hello Clicker Friends,

My name is Emma Parsons and I am the Training Director here at Sunshine Books, Inc. Karen is away on vacation but she wanted me to update you on a few of our projects.

I have just finished teaching a six-week clicker training course at the Tufts Veterinary School of Medicine in North Grafton, MA. Nine students attended, mostly first and second year veterinary students. A master's degree student and a practicing veterinarian also joined us as well.

The goal of this class was twofold: first, to introduce the veterinary students to the wonders of clicker training so that they might use it in their veterinary practices and second, to encourage the students to practice their operant conditioning skills by volunteering at one of the select rescues and shelters in our area. I know, personally, I am looking forward to several students coming to the Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue to help train some of our young, adolescent Goldens for quicker placement. Credits will be awarded to these students for all clicker training work completed.

The texts for this class were as follows:

Clicking With your Dog by Peggy Tillman, Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor, and Clicker Training for Dogs by Karen Pryor. Students were also asked to bring target sticks to class.

We discussed a new topic each week. The first week I introduced the technology of clicker training and how it is used. Students broke up into groups of three to play the training game. I also discussed Canine Home Management and stressed how important it is for the average pet owner to provide structure and training for their dog. Dogs depend on structure and crave mental stimulation.

The second week we worked on free-shaping ''cute'' behaviors in the dogs such as a head tilt or a lifted paw. We also introduced the dogs to the target stick. I made sure that the students switched dogs frequently. I wanted them to be able to compare and contrast the different temperaments of each individual dog. One very interesting observation was that the rate of reinforcement greatly increased as students clicked and fed a dog other than their own. They were much stingier with the clicks while training their own dog. Interesting... This week I also asked that each student picks a new behavior to shape and present it on the last night of class. I also encouraged them to keep a training journal.

Animal husbandry was the focus of week three. I divided the class into groups of three: one student was the doctor, one the vet tech, and the other, the client. The doctor was to tell the client when to click, at which point the animal was clicked and fed, while the vet tech held the animal in place. I wanted them to have a model of how this type of training could easily fit into a veterinary practice. The animal is being rewarded for calm behavior, the client is kept busy by clicking and feeding their animal and the veterinarian is free to touch and examine the patient as necessary. It is also predicted that this owner, who is now clicker savvy, may just click and treat the dog or cat for other appropriate behaviors as well.

Week four was spent on basic obedience and agility training.

Canine aggression was the topic for week five. I spoke about how to handle an aggressive dog safely in a medical environment as well as introducing the students to several desensitization exercises. We also discussed stress signals and calming signals in dogs. Ben, my highly reactive golden retriever, did a lovely demo of calming signals when he was asked to say hello to a strange dog. I also explained how human body signals are perceived by a reactive or aggressive dog.

Week six was our last class, party night! Mary Anne Callahan, one of my assistants for the class, led us in a training game where each of us, one by one, had a minute to shape the ''animal's'' behavior. Our ''animal'' was Meg Golden, the President of the Behavioral Society at Tufts. We were all amazed at the profound progress that the students had made! All of the students, then, shared their projects with the class. Certificates of attendance were given out and cards, with a picture of the trainer and their dog, were also presented. We had a most marvelous time!

Sunshine Books, Inc. is currently working with the Animal Rescue League of Boston to implement a pilot clicker training program in the shelter environment. The program is called ''Click for Cute'' and shelter staff will click and treat the dogs and cats for all appropriate behaviors. This program's aim is to enrich the animals environmentally as well as to help the dogs and cats find homes quicker.

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