A number of months ago I was approached to train a pet piglet, named Leroy. I saw this as an amazing opportunity to ‘test’ the method of training I use on dogs, on another species. I had heard that pigs are very intelligent and that they can be trained to perform many different behaviours.
To begin, I wanted to teach Leroy to push a soccer ball around with his nose. In order to do this, I knew I had to use a training tool called a ‘clicker’. Clickers are small hand held tools, with a button or stiff strip of metal that once pushed, it makes a distinct ‘click’ sound. You may have recieved one as a child in a party bag.
When you begin using the clicker you need to ‘charge’ it by clicking and offering your dog (or pig) a bit of food. By repeating this process several times your dog will begin to anticipate the click with food. Having ‘charged’ the clicker you can now begin to shape behaviours by marking them with the clicker, then offering the food.
The clicker is a learing tool only, once your dog has learned the behaviour, you wont need to click for it anymore. However, each time you click, you MUST feed, even if you click by accident. This is what gives the clicker its meaning to your dog.
The beauty of the clicker is that it pin-points a behaviour, much like taking a photo of exactly what you want your dog to do. The clicker is much more precise than offering food- by the time you offer the food your dog may be doing a completly different behaviour.
If you decide to use a clicker you will need to be clear on the goal behaviour you have in mind and the steps your dog needs to make towards that goal, that’s what you will begin clicking. Sometimes the clicker can make things more complicated as it is another thing to think about, so start with some easy, fun behaviours first.
I knew the clicker would work well with Leroy, as pigs’ hearing is very good, and I knew we had to be exact in reinforcing the correct behaviour so that Leroy could make the connection between his behaviour and the food. We used fresh fruit and vegitables to reinforce Leroy.
I have posted a short video on YouTube of Leroy pushing the ball around. You will notice that the click comes when Leroy pushes the ball. We began (in an earlier session) by clicking when Leroy simply touched the ball with his nose. Once that was happening consitantly we started to click when he would push the ball. As time progresses we need to teach Leroy that he has to push the ball more than once to get the click. This is how you can shape your dogs’ behaviour. Start with something easy first, then work up to your goal step, by step.
You will notice that when Leroy hears the click he goes in to get the food. He knows that pushing the ball will elicit a click and then food will be offered. Very smart indeed!
I hope you enjoy watching this short video, some of the clicker timing is not perfect, but Leroy doesnt care, and most importantly we were enjoying this.