Yesterday Elsa and I were out on our walk when we came across a couple with a little Shepherd looking mix. We had just gotten out of the Xterra and were headed to the fenced in baseball field for a good run. The couple saw us and the woman who was holding the dog's leash seemed to panic. She started yanking on the dog, "heel, heel, heel" she belted out. Obviously by the dog's reaction she had forgotten to teach him what heel meant. The dog wasn't even fazed by this as he continued to ignore his owner and sniff around.
As we got closer I thought I heard a clicker noise. Sure enough as we neared the couple and their dog I saw and heard the clicker. Not only was she yanking on her dog and shouting "heel," she was clicking at the dog. I don't mean clicker training; she was clicking at the dog. It is very sad to see such a misuse of a training aid ; especially such a great one. I see people using the clicker inappropriately all the time. Perhaps folks hear about the clicker and how it is such a positive training method but fail to educate themselves in the use of it. The woman continued to click at her dog who was not affected by the sound; nor was he even acknowledging it. The clicker obviously meant nothing to him.
The clicker is used to mark a behavior; not to lure or illicit one. The click from the clicker is to mark a desired behavior; whether asked for or offered on their own by the dog. It is a bridge that links a behavior to a reward. The dog must learn right at the start of the training that the click means "reward." When the dog is properly trained to the clicker; the clicker holds great power. Elsa actually looked at me as we walked by the dog who was being clicked at. She is clicker trained; so I told let her know that it was not her clicker by ignoring it.
We finally passed the clicking woman and her dog. I had Elsa sit, let her off her leash and gave her the release word. Off she ran, headed to the fenced in field for some chuck it fun. As I watched Elsa having so much fun I thought about that poor dog we'd just passed. The woman was not having fun, that is most definitely for sure. Luckily the dog did not seem hugely affected by the wild and frantic clicking given by the owner. But it won't be long until the dog is displaying some fallout behaviors from the woman's behavior. Dogs typically watch and follow our lead; so with the woman's erratic behavior she will be teaching the dog that other people and dogs approaching is a stressful and bad event.
There are times when you need to stress and perhaps be desperate but this was not one. I had Elsa on leash, we were at least 20 feet away while passing and the little mix was on leash. Everyone was safe, Elsa was being very calm as we passed; there was no imminent danger for anyone. Being in the state that the woman was in was the one isolated danger in the entire situation. What she was displaying with her own behavior will eventually catch up with her; then she will have something to work on.
What should she have been doing? Treating her dog for calmly walking past us, which he did very well.