Monday, July 29, 2013

Aha Clicker Training Moment: Part 2

In an earlier blog, I wrote about how training my dog, Wiley, became a clicker training 'Aha' moment for me.  I became a clicker training convert watching him learn more rapidly using the clicker and my first 'Aha' moment came when I saw that it was upon me to be consistent with the way I train.  Wiley's slower progress learning to walk with proper manners wasn't because he wasn't getting it.  It was because I was not consistent in how I was teaching him. 

Clicker training made me become more aware of what I was doing and I began to learn more about how Wiley's brain works.  He doesn't generalize like I do.  If I learned how to do something on my right side, I'd know what I'd need to do on my left side but for Wiley, it was a totally new thing.  His right was different than his left.  If I used my right hand to hand signal a sit and then switch to my left hand, I had to train him that the left hand signal meant the same thing.  To him, my other hand meant something else until he learned otherwise.  If I moved an object in my house, that would be the first thing he would go look at.  He'd notice the difference immediately.  I experimented doing just that and was amazed that each time, I would move some object in the house, he'd know right away and go and sniff it.  Learning how his brain works and how Wiley sees the world helped me know what it was that I needed to be a better trainer with him. 

Wiley Taught Me The Power Of Clicker Training
At the same time I was training Wiley and learning all this new way of thinking about training, I was counseling a young boy that had been recently diagnosed by his doctors with Asperger's Syndrome.  He had a lot of conduct issues at school and home and his parents were hoping I'd be able to help him with those issues.  I had been seeing him nearly a year with minimal progress and if anything, his conduct had worsened as he approached adolescence.  I researched and read more on Asperger's trying to understand it better so as to help my client.  I read this one book written from the perspective of an autistic person.  That was so enlightening and it reminded me of how Wiley sees the world.  I got to wondering if clicker training would work with this child the way it did with Wiley. 

I asked the parents' permission if I could bring Wiley to my client's sessions.  They agreed and I brought Wiley.  This boy and Wiley hit it off immediately.   It was the first time I'd heard this boy laugh with gusto as he engaged with Wiley.  I knew magic was happening.  The second session, I showed the boy how I was training Wiley with the clicker and asked if he would like to learn how to train Wiley.  He was eager to learn.  I told him how to clicker train Wiley and that we click him when he did the right thing we asked him to do.  We don't punish Wiley when he doesn't do things right but reward him when he does do things correctly.  I saw this boy gaining confidence and was excited to come to sessions.   This boy was not only giving positive reinforcement to Wiley but he was receiving it too from both Wiley and me.  It was not something this boy got a lot of.  He was getting plenty of attention for his conduct issues but it was always negative and reminding him that he was always wrong or bad.  Suddenly, he was doing something right and his reward was Wiley looking up at him with such eagerness and adoration and pure joy. 

After a couple of months, I checked in with my client's mom to see how things were going.  I had typically received calls from her more regularly with issues he was having at school but had not gotten one of those calls for some time.  She told me he was doing much better in school.  He had asked to join a new group outside school and was participating more in school activities.  He still had some issues with conduct but they were improving.  My client understood clicker training right away and he drank up the positive reinforcing like a sponge.  It was truly magical to watch the progress of this young boy opening up to such positive ways. 

Thanks to my clicker training with Wiley, I learned such a valuable lesson that I try and carry with me to this day.  I learned that I need to step outside my way of thinking and become more aware of where the other person or animal is coming from.  So instead of being frustrated like I was with Wiley because he wasn't getting how to heel on both sides, I learned to work from his view of the world instead of my view.  Clicker training is such a valuable tool.   

For more on how Clicker Training can work with kids, check out TAGTEACH.  After my clicker training efforts with Wiley and my client, I attended the first workshop where TAGTEACH focused on working with kids similar to my own client.  It was so wonderful knowing others had the same thought as I did of the power and benefit this tool can provide and they are actually studying it at some Universities now.  YAY for Positive Reinforcement! 

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