Clicker Training Journal

arf2184

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Deer Park, WA
This crazy chinchilla lady has finally lost it...or so some people seem to think. :tease: I have decided to clicker train a few of my chinchillas. I intend to use this thread as a training journal/blog so the other crazy chinchilla people here can follow along. Maybe some of you will be inspired to try it yourself. Maybe those who have experience clicker training can offer me advice when I get stuck.

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BACKGROUND:

I've have taken numerous dog training classes. My own dog loves free-shaping with the clicker and knows many tricks. We compete in Agility and Frisbee. We've also done obedience, Rally, and Treibball training. For the past year, I've also been working with two other dogs on Agility training. Clicker training is my favorite method of training.

I don't recommend anyone trying to clicker train their pet without a basic understanding of how clicker training works. I'll do my best to explain as I go, but for anyone interested, this is a great article on how to get started:
How to Clicker Train Your Critter

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THE STUDENTS:
I currently have 14 chinchillas. I chose 5 that I thought would do best in this endeavor. I may add or drop candidates from 'the project' as I see who is enjoying it and who isn't.

#1 GIRDY:
Girdy is my sweetie. She is 12 years old and has been with me her entire life. In her younger years, she went to schools to teach kids about chinchillas. She loves to run around, will hop on my shoes or my leg while she's out playing. I chose her because she likes interacting with people and I thought she'd be more likely to offer behaviors.

#2 SYDNEY:
Syd is a 9 year old now-fur-chewer. She came from a ranch initially, but has been with me for 8 years. I chose her because I'm curious to see if more brain-work has any effect on her chewing habits. She's a bit shy so I expect her to be a bit of a challenge.

#3 LINA:
Lina is a 4 year old who I can't keep in the cage. If her door is open she wants to come out and play. She likes to visit too. I chose her because of her outgoing personality.

#4 KIWI:
Kiwi is Lina's younger sister. She'll be 4 years old next month. She is a bit reserved, but she does like to visit every so often. I chose her because she currently lives alone and I thought she could use the extra attention.

#5 AEDEN:
Aeden is 2 years old and the only boy in 'the project'. He's a mellow guy who likes to be scratched on the chin or behind the ears. I think he'll give me a little more focus than my other chinchillas.

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THE CLASSROOM:

Its important to have a training area free of distractions and hiding places. For our training space, we're starting out in a 6-panel x-pen in a closed hexagon shape on the floor in the same room as the chinchilla cages. It doesn't leave us with a lot of working space, but it also helps keep the chinchillas closer while we're working.

I work with one chinchilla at a time. Each individual session lasts 2-5 minutes, depending on the chinchilla.

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arf2184

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652
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Deer Park, WA
LESSON #1: CLICK = TREAT
OBJECTIVES:
  • The clicker is not scary.
  • The human has yummy treats.
  • When you hear the click, you get a yummy treat.

For this, I needed to start with a high value treat. I decided on raisins. No, they are not the most healthy treat, but for the first lesson, I needed a treat that was very desirable and would attract their attention. I cut each raisin into about 12-16 pieces and spread them out on a plate so I could quickly pick up each tiny piece.

The goal here is simple: get the chinchillas to associate the sound of the clicker with the treat.

With dogs, you do this by clicking and immediately giving a treat. Repeat as many times as necessary until the dog starts to anticipate the treat at the sound of the click.

With chinchillas, I had to change it up a bit because they move around so quickly by the time they were in position to take the treat, the click was long forgotten. I started by clicking simultaneously while the chinchilla was taking the treat.

Once the chinchillas started coming up to me in search of more treats, I altered things so the click came first, then the treat.

GIRDY: B+
Girdy was not very interested in taking treats at first. She just wanted to figure out how to escape the x-pen. Once she gave up on that though, she started focusing on the treats and I think she got to where she associates the click with a treat.

SYDNEY: D
Sydney was not happy about the whole situation...until she took a bite of raisin. She only took 3 little pieces though and then she was done. I don't think we progressed enough for her to understand click=treat. We ended her session with her barking and kacking at me. Not the best, but we'll try again later.

LINA: A+
Not only did Lina catch on quickly, she began seeking out her treat when she heard the click. So we moved on to starting Lesson 2. I'll get in to that more later, but let me just say I was very impressed with Lina and she really seemed to enjoy her session.

KIWI: B
Kiwi was a bit worried about the whole situation. She had no interest in treats; she just wanted back in her cage. The clicker startled her initially. Once she settled down, tasted that magic raisin, and got used to the click, she started to catch on.

AEDEN: A-
The ever-so-handsome Aeden is apparently very food motivated. He too caught on that click=treat and by the end of his session was anticipating the treat at the sound of the click. He gets an A- for biting the human though. To be fair, his session was last and my fingers did smell of raisin at that point. He is perfectly happy sitting still in one spot so I'm not sure how he'll do at offering behaviors in future sessions, but we'll see. I may have do use some luring with him.

All in all, I was very pleased with how things went today. I wasn't sure what I was getting in to, but I'm pleased to see some progress after just one lesson. Lina is going to be fun. Sydney may not work out.
 
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arf2184

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Deer Park, WA
LESSON #2: Click means I did something right and I get a treat
OBJECTIVES:
  • Click=Treat
  • My behavior earns a click
  • Front paws off the floor earns a click

In this lesson, the goal is to get the chinchilla to begin understanding that it is their own behavior that earns the click and gets them a treat. To get this understanding, we have to choose a behavior that the chinchilla does naturally and start clicking that one specific behavior. The click marks the desired behavior. The reward (treat) reinforces the behavior.

I chose sitting up for our first 'trick'. This is something chinchillas do on their own all the time (and its cute). So every time the chinchilla lifts his/her two front paws off the floor, I click and treat. By doing this, I mark the desired behavior with the click, and reinforce that click=treat.

At this point, I'm not saying anything or cue-ing the behavior in any way. That comes later. For now, I just wait for them to do it on their own, click, and reward.

**Timing of the click is very important.** In this case, I try to click just as the paws are lifted off the floor. Later, once the chinchillas understand more, we'll add duration and a cue. For now, I'm just clicking that one specific behavior -- front paws off the floor.

LINA: A
Lina was the only one ready to progress to the this step today. I'm not sure if she fully understands that her behavior led to the click, but she was sitting up a lot and coming to get her treat when she heard the click.
 
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arf2184

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Deer Park, WA
Lesson #2 (cont.)

Today we switched to rolled oats for a treat. Mixed results.

LINA: A+
This girl is really focused and smart. I've made far more progress than I expected to with her at this point. When she hears the click, she automatically looks to me for her treat. She started offering me few different behaviors, trying to figure out how to get her treat and seemed to figure out that sitting up was the way to get it. She worked just as well for rolled oats as she did raisins.

GIRDY: B+
Girdy was more focused today. She wanted those oats. She did link the sound of the clicker to getting a treat, but hasn't yet caught on that her behavior is what earns a click. I think she's close though.

SYDNEY: F
Syd had no interest in being out of her cage at all. She wouldn't take a treat, barked at me and tried to spray me. She's 'expelled' from clicker school (but I still love her anyhow, the little stinker).

KIWI: C
Kiwi reminded me that some chinchillas need more time to settle in the 'classroom' before training starts. Once she got used to her surroundings and showed some interest in today's treat, we were able to get some good clicks in. She's still learning that click=treat. She's not as interested in the oats as Girdy, Lina, and Aeden so that slowed our progress some. I think we'll get there though.

AEDEN: A-
Aeden also needed some times to settle down before we started training. Once he got into it though, he was all about the treats. I started by clicking any movement from him at all because he does have a tendency to want to sit and stare at me. He understands click means treat now. I did have to lure him into lifting his front paws off the floor though. Its not something he does as often as my girls. He started to catch on though and by the end of our little session he was lifting both front paws up when ever my hand came near his nose. He gets a minus again for biting the human while taking his treat. :)
 
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Zoaea

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Seattle, WA
Updates? =S Did Adien bite the human again, has Kiwi become more intrested in oats, I can't stand the wait! =P
 

arf2184

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Lesson #2 (cont.)

Rolled oats again for today's treat.

GIRDY: B
Girdy started out great with several good clicks for two front paws up. Then distraction came. The cat decided to come watch. She won't hurt the chinchillas...quite the opposite. Girdy likes to chase her. So Girdy spent a while trying to figure out how to get out of 'the classroom' so she could chase the cat. Not having any success, she decided to focus on the treats again and we got a few more clicks in. Then she found the my bag of rolled oats, grabbed it, and tried to run off with it. After I cleaned up the stray oats, Girdy decided she was done for the day and wanted to go back in her cage. Not a bad session...during the time she was focused, she did well. She heard the clicker and looked to me for her treat. I don't think she fully understands that her behavior earns a click, so we'll continue with 'Lesson #2' next time (without the cat around).

KIWI: B
Kiwi is not really interested enough in oats to make this whole clicker thing worth her while. She'll only take the treat about 50% of the time. Next time we'll try something else. She was more relaxed this session and was offering more behaviors with lots of sitting up.
 

arf2184

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LESSON #3: Adding the Cue
OBJECTIVES:
  • the noise the human makes means something
  • 'SIT UP' means lift your two front paws
  • two front paws off the floor earns a click
  • click=treat

The only difference here is now I'm using words. In Lesson 1 and 2, I was silent and just waited for the desired behavior (except with Aeden, who I lured into lifting his front paws). Now, when the chinchilla lifts his/her front paws off the floor, I say 'sit up', click, then treat. The idea is to get the chinchillas to associate the words 'Sit up' with the behavior.

This is a tricky part with chinchillas. Dogs usually learn early on that human noises/words have some sort of meaning. At the very least, they learn their names and the word 'No' just through everyday interaction with us. Chinchillas are capable of learning this, but they often don't. I think this is partly because they don't typically spend as much time interacting with us as a dog that roams our house does, and also because they don't quite have the desire to please us that many dogs have. ("The human's making that noise again...eh, who cares.") I typically use clicking noises when 'talking' to my chinchillas. Girdy is the only one that ever really learned her name. I've been worried about using a verbal cue and whether or not the chinchillas will actually catch on. We shall see. I may have to add some sort of hand signal. They are very attune to movement and that might be easier for them.

LINA: A+
Miss Smarty Pants did it again. She often turns her head towards me when she hears the click to see where her treat is coming from. She clearly understands that sitting up is what earns her a click (and therefore a treat). She was actually hopping around on her back legs for part of her session. She doesn't quite associate the words 'sit up' with the behavior yet, but she definitely knows how to get her treats.

AEDEN: A
Aeden did not bite the human today! :dance3: He started out great and moved around more this session. He sat up on his own several times (without me luring him). When I started talking though, he wasn't sure about things anymore and I had to go back to luring him into lifting up those front paws. The good thing about this was I knew ahead of time when he was going to perform the behavior, so I could give the verbal cue "Sit up", lure, then click and treat (rather than cuing after/during the behavior). He too tried to steal my oat bag. Stinker.
 
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Airyn

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Pennsylvania
This is great! Thanks so much for sharing! I haven't tried clicker training, but mine do know quite a few verbal commands. I just used word association to reinforce their natural behaviors. Their retention is absolutely amazing when you're willing to put in the work. I look forward to seeing how your training progresses. :))
 

nikkik0720

Chin-Mommy of 3
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Jun 30, 2013
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Johnstown, Pa
Amazing! I might just have to try this with my baby Willow. She just turned 6 months, so a very little treat here and there can be given. She's also very 'human praise' oriented. She loves to get chin scratches and have her ears rubbed/massaged. So this could work in place of treats.
hmm. I'll have to try it :)
 

arf2184

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Jan 30, 2009
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Deer Park, WA
Sorry for the delay...I took a hard fall in agility practice. Nothing serious, but sitting on the floor was not something I wanted to do for a while. Still have bruised knees, but all else is well now. The chins seem to have retained what they learned, despite the two week break.

===================================

For today's treat, I mixed some puffed rice with the rolled oats and alternated what they got.
(Shop around...many 'Rice Cereals' have sugar and other ingredients added.)

LESSON #2 (cont.)

KIWI: C
Kiwi is still working on Lesson #2. Part of the reason she is not progressing as quickly as the others is she is not as food motivated as the others. Also, she's more nervous/flighty. Outside her cage she's very worried about sounds and movement. I think we might move her lessons to inside her cage. Today, she did sit up several times, but mainly because she was trying to figure out how to get back to the safety of her cage. She did take treats from me, but she dropped as many as she ate, showing that she doesn't see them as high enough value to work for. She likes the rice as well as she does oats...not quite enough to hold her attention.

LESSON #3: Adding the Cue (cont.)

LINA: A+
Once again, Lina is at the top of the class. She knows what I want and she knows how to get those treats. Her focus was a bit weak early on so I started "jackpotting" her. That really got her going. She liked the addition of the puffed rice. Because we had such a long time between sessions, I didn't want to move her up to "lesson #4" just yet, but she is ready. She will sit-up when verbally cued...and also when not cued.

JACKPOTTING:
Just like the word says...the idea here is to make your chinchilla (or dog, etc) think she/he has hit the jackpot! Think of slot machines where people will repeat an action over and over with little or no reward in hopes of hitting the jackpot. They know the big reward is coming sometime, so they keep repeating the behavior in hopes that it will happen soon. This has a few different uses in training. Here I used it to help bring Lina's focus back to our session. I said the verbal cue as she sat up, I clicked once and then gave her 4 pieces of treats spread out in my open palm (yep, you can break rice and oats into even smaller bits to make the 'treat allowance' for the session last longer). With dogs, many trainers recommend giving one treat at a time in succession so the dog knows they're getting more. With chinchillas, the excessive hand movements can make them nervous so I found the open palm with multiple treats worked better. Not only did the 'jackpot' bring back Lina's focus, but she seemed a bit more enthusiastic about training.

GIRDY: A
Girdy does great when she's focused. She did about 3-4 good solid 'sit-ups' before she decided to clicker was more interesting and kept trying to take it from me...lol. Short sessions are fine so she still gets an A. I don't know if she's catching on to the verbal cue yet. She too liked the rice. When she realized I wasn't giving up the clicker, she went for the treat bag (again).

AEDEN: B
Aeden went back to being a lump in the corner for the first part of his lesson. Then he decided the poop on the floor (his lesson was last) was more interesting. So we went back to luring again. Give the verbal cue, lure into two-paws-off-floor, click and reward. Then I decided to try a hand signal. I'm using an open palm (with a treat) raised a bit higher than he can stand. He seemed to like that. It's not quite luring, but it does entice him to sit/stand up. *click* Then I just lower my hand and let him take his treat off my open palm while he's standing/sitting up.

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I'll try and get some video soon.
 
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