Katie, Andre, and I recently met with Yariv Melamed, a dog trainer for Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, while he was in town for work.
In and of itself, this was pretty cool. Meeting people who train working dogs in any field is always interesting. Many working dog trainers still train using old fashioned methods (read: correction). Here’s the cool thing about Yariv and the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind: they switched over to exclusively clicker training five years ago.
Announcing the changes in training methods from correction training to clicker training took them four months. They consulted clicker training experts such as Michele Pouliot (Director of R&D at Guide Dogs for the Blind, Karen Pryor Academy/ClickerExpo Faculty) for best practices. All the trainers got on board with the new methods. The organization decided that positive reinforcement was the best and more humane method to train, and so they did it. It’s really an inspiration; there are many other organizations closer to home who have more resources than the Israel Guide Dog Center who can’t be bothered to make those same changes, or who are in the process but are making very slow transitions.
This change in training methods is across the board. The trainers on staff are clicker trainers, and they check in monthly with their puppy raiser foster parents, who have the dogs for the first year of their lives. Then they train with the clients who will ultimately get the dogs for several months, and check in once a year with the clients and their guide dogs.
The Israel Guide Dog Center did side by side tests of the old training methods versus the new, and found clicker training more effective and more precise. Up to and including things like the dogs knowing exactly where to stop on curbs by the road, avoiding overhead branches, etc.
Here’s an added challenge: the picture above is a typical sidewalk in Israel. They’re uneven, blocked by garbage and cars and treed, unpredictable. And still, using clicker training and positive reinforcement, the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind is able to train highly effective guide dogs.
No more excuses… if they can do it, anyone can!
(Thank you for Shane and Nancy Spring, Cooper the Mini Golden Doodle’s parents, for the introduction to Yariv)