Supporting agility dogs with specialist lifetime cover

Clicker training for agility and obedience

By Stephen G. King
Reviewed by Joanne Steward

Description: An introduction to the scientific principles behind the process of learning, this book places an emphasis on practical solutions to behaviour problems encountered by dog owners, trainers, rescuers, boarding kennels and pet behaviour counsellors.

Contents include:-

  • Getting Ready
  • Take It Steady
  • Click! Practically Everything!
  • And Beyond
  • In Conclusion
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography & Resources
  • Useful Addresses
  • Index
  • Training Tips for Success

Best features:-
The book gives a good overview of clicker training and some of its applications in teaching basic obedience. I felt that it would be most suitable for those with some experience of dog training, as an introduction to improving training with the use of the clicker, rather than for the complete newcomer. 

The book contains a number of simple exercises which the reader could teach their dogs in a relatively short amount of time, for example teaching a sit, down, stand, sendaway, walking on a lead, etc. These exercises are clearly explained and broken down into simple steps, offering remedies when the dog doesn’t respond as expected. A handy section at the end of the book reminds the reader of the key considerations to remember to ensure success.

Worst features:-
I found some of the ‘science’ sections difficult to understand, requiring a second reading to fully comprehend. A few sections of the book include creative use (or none-use to be precise) of punctuation, for example, whole paragraphs without a single comma, which makes reading more difficult than necessary at some points.

I was somewhat disappointed to find that the book focused, almost exclusively, on basic obedience training. Whilst the introduction does talk about the use of clicker training in agility, flyball, etc., it does not go into any further detail about how the handler might apply the principles to other disciplines, although clearly teaching the sendaway, wait, etc, would be readily transferable to other sports. 

Those already familiar with agility training would probably find it relatively simple to transfer the basics of clicker training to teaching agility obstacles.  However, I felt that the less experienced would struggle considerably without further assistance or reading.  It would have been good to see a brief description of how one might use clicker training to teach contacts, weaves, direction commands, etc, which the handler could then build upon to train the other obstacles and commands required in agility.

Design & Format: Glossy fronted, A5 size book, split into short chapters. The book also includes some amusing cartoons to accompany the text.

Price: £8.99

Value for Money: Quite good.  88 pages, the majority of which contain sound, practical advice, which could become a handy reference manual for the clicker trainer.

Overall rating: 7 out of 10

Crosskeys Select Books
Dept. AN
Collier Row Road, Romford, Essex RM5 2BH
Tel. 020-8590 3604, Fax. 020-8599 6177

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Steve KingAbout the author
Stephen King
is a specialist dog-trainer, consultant to Redbridge Borough Council dog section and a qualified Agility instructor and has a Diploma in animal psychology.  His practice specialises in puppy training and pet behavioural problems.  And he works on the referral of Veterinary Surgeons as a behaviourist. He is also a founder member of the APDT, whose code of practice allows only Kind, Fair and Force-free methods of training.

Stephen is a leading light in the use of operant conditioning (clicker training) and has had students from all over the UK, including Holland, Belgium and Finland for his Clicker Workshops. Most of the dog societies such as the National Canine Defence League, Battersea Dogs home, Dogs for the Disabled, Guide dogs for the blind to name a few are now using these concepts in their training programs.

Stephen is also a publisher and a video producer His two videos, Clicker Train Your Dog and Your Puppy’s Early Learning have been the top two videos sold in the UK in the last two years. His new book Ready, Steady, Click! An introduction to Clicker Training has already become one of the UK’s top selling dog training books. Stephen has also been a guest speaker on radio and TV, talking about solving problem behaviours. He has recently lectured in Holland and Germany the principles of his new book, Ready Steady... Click!

Stephen and his wife Josie have considerable experience in animal care and welfare as the have for 12 years run a Boarding Kennels licensed for 100 dogs

About the reviewer
Joanne Steward lives in County Durham with her husband, three dogs and two cats. She attended her first agility training class in 1995 with her then six month old collie, George. She has been hooked ever since and now trains weekly with Cornforth DATC and Up North DTS, competing at shows throughout the North East and Scotland regularly.

She has experience of clicker training to teach basic obedience and a range of agility obstacles (especially contacts).


Post-script from the author...
Our intention was to provide existing trainers with the building blocks to understanding and using clicker training. We tried to provide a brief and as 'unscientific' as possible an introduction to the science behind the practice, in order to explain how and why clicker training works along with some simple quick examples for the reader to get started with some success. 

The study guide will assist those that may perhaps need some help through the scientific principles, and it was encouraging that the reviewer found the text worthy of a reread. We thank the reviewer for drawing our attention to paragraphs of text with 'none-use' (sic) of punctuation and apologise for missing this during the proof reading stages - publisher deadlines were being pushed to the limit - and we will attempt to remedy this before the subsequent reprint runs for this edition.

It was not our intention to provide endless examples of clicker practicals, and I'm sure the reviewer appreciates that too lengthy a book would
have been off-putting to many of the readers we were hoping to attract (and perhaps 'win over' to the benefits of R+) and in the process would have gone beyond an 'introduction' and added to the cost to the purchaser. We have been pleased with the success ... and welcome any and all feedback.

As for specific agility tips (and others) watch this space....

From a personal point of view cannot stress how important a basic understanding of behavioural principles is. It's not necessary for applying the techniques, but it is definitely necessary for understanding what you're doing! Think of it in terms of sports players or musicians. Neither need to have an understanding of how they do what they do to be extremely good.  Those of us who have watched any recent football interviews or TV documentaries know EXACTLY what I'm talking about! 

Think of it in terms of sports players or musicians
I've also met similar animal trainers, both traditional and positive, who were absolutely amazing trainers, but knew very little about why what they did worked.  They may have even had superstitious behaviours or gargantuan theories as explanations for why what they did works. All that in mind, I suppose the answer is this. They don't need to know why what they're doing will work in training animals, aka the behavioural principles.

Keep in mind, though, that those same people will most likely try to train others or at least explain to others how to do what they did. Without a fundamental understanding of behavioural principles, you can be sure they'll come up with some reason for why what they do works. Teaching a fundamental understanding of the behavioural principles along with the actual training would probably be very helpful, and I'm pretty sure it couldn't hurt, as long as you make it educative, interesting, brief, and fun! 

Other comments
As Dee Woodcock mentions in her review: 'Some of the terminology will be unfamiliar with those new to this increasingly popular hands-free dog training method, but Stephen thoughtfully rounds off the book with a Glossary of Terms, and some quick reference training tips for success.'

''He first explains the science of changing the dog's behaviour outlining how our dogs learn, and how the use of positive reinforcement can turn the most uncooperative dog into one that any owner will be proud of"'

Positive reinforcement is the name of the game, not Negative Re-enforcement, nor Positive Punishment, but maybe negative punishment. Dr David Sands PhD. sums this book up nicely: Ready, Steady... Click takes its readers through the 'science' of conditioning, the practical development of clicker signalling, training and understanding behaviour modification. A must for dog keepers and those studying or applying dog training.'

From Kay Westgate
Stephen King's book gives all the information on basic clicker training but as yet I do not think there is anything written about applying it to agility. I teach clicker training and have my own site where I try to explain it in simple terms! I do agility and I am applying it to training the touchpoints. Seems to be working quite well. The proof of the pudding will be when I start back to competing this year. I wish I had used this method from the word go because I do think it has a future in our sport.

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