Clicker Training a Lizard

A beautiful mind thinks on its own.

What in the world does training a lizard have anything to do with training a dog for search and rescue?

Canine Search and Rescue uses the strengths and skills of a human and a canine partner.  While the human guides the dog on what general area to search, it is the dog that finds the scent and figures out how to follow it on his own.  Only the dog can smell where the scent is, not you.

How do you encourage your dog to use his brain along with his nose?

Train him like a lizard.

I have no way to tell a lizard he is doing something wrong, but I do have a way to tell him he is doing something right.

 This is called shaping. 

When an animal is rewarded for making good guesses, this will increase his desire to think and thus make more guesses.  With more guesses, you can reward only the guesses closest to the desired goal.  This in turn leads to better guessing and better thinking. You want your dog to think about as many solutions as possible and try them.  (ie, run all over the place so we don’t have to!)

To train a lizard all I need is a nice yummy superworm and a noisemaker that tells him a worm is coming.

The noisemaker of choice is a clicker.  When I press the clicker, I am telling the lizard he is doing something right.  In this video, I am teaching this lizard to walk to an orange target.

  • The first thing is to “charge” the clicker.  I am simply teaching the lizard that click means worm.  Click, worm, click, worm, click, worm.
  • Next, the lizard gets rewarded for simply moving in the general direction of the target.  I start with the target right next to the lizard to make it really easy.
  • Then, I make it harder and move the target a bit further away from the lizard.  I never physically move the lizard on top of the target.  He has to figure this all out on his own.  The lizard is free to make choices.  He can decide to ignore me, climb up my leg, or even run away.  He never gets punished; he just simply doesn’t get rewarded.
  • He is going to mess up several times, but he wants that worm!  This is when the real fun begins. He will start to think.  With that, he will start offering all kinds of behaviors.  The lizard is trying everything he can think of to make that click happen.

Let’s watch it happen:

This is what we want our dogs doing.  We don’t want them stopping in the middle of a search task to stare at us, asking for help when they lose the scent.  We want them to experiment, to think, to find the solution on their own.  A dog who thinks will be sniffing up trees, under brambles, in the water, down in holes, everywhere!
And that is a beautiful mind at work.
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One Response to “Clicker Training a Lizard”

  1. [...] Clicker Training a Lizard « Hound and the Found [...]

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