From Sophie S.:
Let me give you an example. I've been a clicker trainer for about three years now, but I never clicked my aunt's shepherd-Doberman mix (now 10 years old). Mascha's history is this: My aunt saved her from being put down, because her previous owner wanted to get rid of her. She was then six months old. He also probably hit her.
I always gave Mascha treats without a click for stuff she already knew. But it was really no fun, because any command made her so stressed. When for example I told her to lie down she was especially nervous and often she broke the down. When I gave her commands, even though she already knew what they meant, she became so nervous, she rolled on her back and started to whine.
Last Xmas I decided to start clicker training her. I clicked her for sitting and I lured her down a few times and then clicked her for offering me this position. However I never gave her the learned commands! In one session she was able to stay down even when I put food right next to her on the floor; at the same time I clicked her for looking into my eyes. I know some normal dogs that get stressed during this exercise, but she didn't show me any sign of stress, she even really enjoyed the whole process!
The next time I saw her—on April 12th—she greeted me with a sit! (Usually she nearly knocks me down the stairs.) When I took her for a walk she repeatedly crashed down at my feet, offering me the down I had taught her three and a half months earlier. And she was happy!
I think clicker training was so helpful for her because:
- She can control a part of her world. Maybe this is the most important lesson of all for a fearful dog that has learned his environment is unpredictable.
- She feels safe in the sit or down position (because she is so sure that she is doing it right. The clicker explained it to her). And you can calm her down, when she gets stressed, by using a new cue, not the old command.
- In clicker training I can tell her at once that she is doing it right. So she isn't confused which might easily lead to stress.
- With this dog it was very important that the click doesn't carry any emotion. Because she would get stressed even if you praise her!
Karen Pryor says: I think this is a good example of a dog that has experienced "poisoned" cues. The command "sit" or "down" might be followed by praise, but it also might have been followed by punishment (probably the owner sometimes corrected the sit or down that he got, because it was too slow or for some other reason.) As a pup, therefore, the dog had learned the behaviors but had not been able to tell, predictably, whether the outcome of doing them would be okay (praise) or something awful; so the commands themselves became conditioned punishers. Re-shaping the behavior without correction, and adding a different cue, again without correction, enabled the animal to give the same responses without fear-for the first time in ten years.