We’ve come a long way in dog training when it comes to Methods and How we train and motivate our dogs to perform.
I know – corrections and heavy handed methods are sadly still out there and in use – but there is a shift in thinking and there seems to be more awareness and interest in exploring dog friendly techniques. At least I want to believe so.
Annette and Maggio in a Rally’O trial.
One of the main things really setting Rally’O
apart from traditional obedience is the ability
for the handler to talk and use verbal praise
even in the ring, during the performance.

In this movement toward more friendly and “positive” training, there is one development that I am not particularly fond of. I will tell you what I am referring to – and then you can judge for yourself if you have ever seen this or maybe if you are seeing any of this in your own training?!                                                           The question is “What happened to Praise”?

Those who have attended classes with me or seen me work my own dogs, will know that the clicker IS a tool I have in my tool box. I *do* find it a hugely valuable tool and for some tasks: especially those requiring very specific timing to teach, such as precise movements, the clicker is invaluable. But at the same time – I do not find it a Be all – End all tool.
I also “get it” when clients struggle to keep track of dog, leash, treats/ or toy/ listening to instructions, let alone trying to put it all together. Sometimes it’s just too much to add a clicker – and I see better results when we remove it and focus on Just Training.
In serious circles of “Clicker Trainers”, timing and juggling of multiple tools is second nature and does not, of course, cause issues with not having enough hands. The mechanics seem to flow seamlessly and the sequence of click, treat is rythmic and precise, and the click captures Just the right behavior. Every time. Progress is fast. In many ways it is beautiful.
But here is what often bothers me when watching some Clicker Trainers (both skilled and not so skilled) work: the mechanics and concentration on flow is so overpowering and “sterile” it leaves no room for verbal praise! There’s often reference to the need to completely isolate the click from anything else, to remain objectively neutral while training. The dog, when “clicker savvy”, should “work to hear the click”.
When a dog understands the sequence of click=always means a reinforcer is imminent, the dog may indeed be “working for the click” but it seems as if, in the process of picking up the clicker, the trainer has forgotten about verbal praise?! In attempts to keep the click completely salient and clean, so much concentration goes toward it – that the trainer becomes a quiet robot, not ever verbally connecting with their dog, not praising or celebrating the progress made! I find this very sad.
Again – I like the clicker for a lot of things. I use it. But even more than I like the mechanics of a tool, I LOVE what happens when we reach a milestone in training and people happily exclaim “YES!” (treat) “YES!” (treat) “YES!” (treat) and continue on with a long sequence of “What a good boy/ girl/ What a clever puppy! GOOD CHOICE! That was amazing! Good boy!” A dog that finds value in praise and social connection with people, will turn into a wiggly-tail-wag of joy. I find THAT a true pleasure to watch.
I think verbal praise is extremely important and find it very sad it often seems forgotten in striving for “clean training mechanics”. Using the clicker as a tool has its place in training, so does food, so do toys. Let’s just not forget about Praise! It’s something you will always have with you, something hopefully your dog will have come to value and see as Important.
Next time I will suggest a simple little test you can do to see whether you are remembering to also use verbal PRAISE to reward your dog or if you are relying too much on food? There is a simple thing you can do to find out…the dog will tell you 🙂 But I will save that for next time.
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