How is dog training like Abbott and Costello?  No guesses?  I heard their classic comedy routine “Who’s on First?” all the way through for the very first time yesterday.  The precision in which they deliver each line is a riot!  A slower repartee would have resulted in a bland,  unfunny exchange, leaving the audience to wonder what the heck they are talking about.  In this routine, you are witnessing the perfect illustration of how timing is so critical – not just for comedy but in other aspects of life. 

Dog training is no different. Without a precisely delivered reward to the dog for doing the requested behavior, your dog will not know just what you are talking about.  Let’s use the very basic “sit” as an example.  Anyone who has ever trained an active, excitable dog knows that a dog like this may only sit for a milli-second before hopping up again. In order to show the dog that you desire a “sit” from him, you will need to mark this behavior at the very precise moment when the dog’s backside touches the floor.  An immediate “Yes!” rewards the dog and tells him that you like that action.  If your timing is too late, you may be rewarding the dog for a different, often undesirable behavior. Instead of showing your dog how to sit, you may be praising him for hopping up!

The use of a clicker, a small plastic box with a metal strip inside that when pushed emits a distinctive clicking sound, has proven to be a useful tool to deliver a perfectly timed marker of behavior.  First used to train dolphins, it is now commonly used in dog training classes.  When used properly, the sound of the click tells the dog that he performed the right behavior.  There will be no doubt in the dog’s mind that he’s “on first!”

For more information about clicker training, check out Karen Pryor’s web site.  She was responsible for bringing clicker training to the dog training world.