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Dog Scared of Clicker

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Dear Karen Pryor,

I have used clicker training with great success in the past, particularly with a dog of mine that had dominance aggression. It truly changed his life.

However, I now have a dog that I believe was badly treated while training. I don't know his history because he is a rescue, but when I tried teaching him that the clicking sound was a good sound, I basically trained him to hate hot dog bits. He now shrinks away if I offer him a hot dog piece, even without the clicker. The sound of the clicker made him run and hide from me and refuse to come out for at least an hour. I don't know what he associates with this noise, but clearly it is not good.

So my question is, could you suggest another noise that would be as effective, but less startling to this dog for training?

I would greatly appreciate your help.

Cason Lynley

The click sound is indeed a little startling. One way to get around it is to use the blink of a flashlight instead, and train a simple behavior such as targeting to your fist, and then to a pencil or other small object. Also use the blink to mark already-trained behavior such as a sit, reinforcing with praise or normal event such as sit/blink/door opens. Sit/blink/dinner bowl goes down. Once the dog gets over worrying about what's going to happen, once he understands that his actions make the blink go off, you should be able to transfer to a muffled clicker.

I have seen this once before, a dog that would drool when he heard the click but had a terrible time approaching and eating the food. In human beings I'd say this extreme hesitancy is not a result of a history of punishment, but rather a history of negative reinforcement. Constantly fearing that approval will be removed if one makes a mistake, but being uncertain as to what the mistakes might be. I'm told in people this history is at the root of a lot of phobic behavior.

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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

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