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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hi all! I've lurked for a while but never posted. I'm seeking some advice about my 8-year-old dog's training, which has been sporadic at best. She's very smart, a rescue BC mix, and the family dog we've had since I was in 6th grade (I'm now 18). I have a few questions:

I'm really interested in clicker training, is it possible to start at any age? She knows sit, down, come, stay, leave it, drop it, and some cute tricks like roll over, play dead, and sit pretty. However, none of these commands are or ever have been very polished; she does them kind of wildly in anticipation of a treat. Could clicker training help her learn to do these (especially the safety ones like come and drop it) more sharply and reliably?

I also would love some advice on getting her interested in listening when food is NOT involved. She's extremely attentive for food and will do every command she knows before I say a word if there's a treat, but when she gets a command without food she'll wander around and consider it for a while before she actually does it!

I want to spend time working on her training this summer while I'm home from college; I find it fun and she needs the mental exercise. She's definitely got some BC in her although she isn't quite as driven and focused. She isn't very affectionate and while I know she likes her family deep down, she would rather play or hike than cuddle. She's a very well behaved dog, manners-wise, but I want to sharpen up her training for her safety and everyone's happiness, human and canine :)

Sorry this has been such a long post, I only recently became really interested in dog training so I have tons of things I'm wondering about haha. Thanks! :)

 

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You can start clicker training at any time! My dog was around three when we started but it wasn't long before I lost my clicker lol! I bought a new one the other day and she picked it up again in no time--she's six now.

What helps with the food dependency is making it random, so she doesn't know if she's getting a treat or not--similar to what keeps gamblers addicted! I start out clicking and treating EVERY time, and then as she gets it down I'll start doing it less and less, and at random, until she's doing it without the treat more than with it.
 

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BCs are ultra-intelligent, whether or not you train them. They are very observant to body language and gestures, and they love to train people :)

You have an overlap of training methods: lure training using food (the old method) and clicker training (primary rule is that a click ALWAYS means a treat!).

This may not be accurate, but if you look at it this way, it may help: She does not know how to Sit on cue; she 'thinks' that she has taught you to give her a treat, if she Sits, Downs, etc. So, to fine tune her response, you want to 're-train' her with one behavior, then you keep upping the ante.
For example:
1. Fido, Sit! Then she walks around, and sits sloppy. You praise and give her a treat. Repeat 3 times. Stop the training session.
2. New session a few hours later: Fido, Sit! She walks around, starts to take out a cigarette and light it (anything but SIT!). You say Oops! and kinda begin to walk away, ignoring her. (The Oops! is a non-aversive, No Reward Marker (NRM) telling her that her behavior wasn't correct.)
3. Same Session: She comes back and Sits (Don't give her a treat, unless you anticipate and say Sit before she does it.)
4. Take a few steps backwards so that she follows, then say "Fido, Sit!" If she does a little better praise and treat, Otherwise Oops! etc.
5. Incrementally, increase your requirement for rewarding a good Sit. With a trained BC, you might increase the speed of these cycles, but not required.

You can do roughly the same process with the clicker...
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks for the responses! hanksimon, what you said seems to describe our situation pretty well! I think she was so accustomed to being trained by food (it was mostly my dad who trained her as a baby) that she doesn't see any motivation to listen when there's no food involved. I will try implementing your suggestions! She's always been a fast learner, so hopefully we'll see some results sooner than later :)
 

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With the food rewards, you can use dry kibble, but she will do better if you use high value rewards such as sausage, chicken, shredded ham, roast lamb etc. When she does something really well and quick, give her a jackpot reward.

Treats should be no bigger than your little finger nail and should be delivered within 3 seconds of the click.

You can fade the food rewards as you progress and substitute a really good cuddle with a "Goooood Giiiirl ' praise but always remember the jackpot.

Most important aspect with clicker training is your timing. You have to click the exact action you want. So when looking for a sit, you only click when the bum hits the floor. Early is not to serious because the dog is still going down, but if you are late you may be clicking a bounce up.

Read up on shaping a dog. This teaches the dog to use its brain and whilst lots of patience on your part is required, it is incredibly rewarding to see your dogs brain working out what he needs to do to earn his reward.
 
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