During the first minute of Conan O’Brien’s recent interview with Will Ferrell, I was like a little excited kid: Out of no where, Anchor Man himself is waxing on about how most of the joy and gratification in his life comes from his hobby: dog training. Ferrell says:
I actually train dogs. It’s a release for me. I work with a lot of dogs that have behavioral issues. It’s a great way to give them confidence.
As a big advocate of the soul-enriching benefits of making dog training a hobby, I was all “Sing it, brothah!” But when he started to say that he does “a whole obstacle course thing” with his dogs, I began to get suspicious. I’ve never done agility, with my dog but people who do agility tend to call it agility. Yes, it totally is an “obstacle course thing,” but that’s kind of like synchronized high diving a “jumping into a pool thing.”
He then brought on a bunch of pooches and gave a demonstration of some dog training that’s as bad as I’ve ever seen–but much funnier.
As a dog trainer, I can’t tell you how many times I find myself uttering the words: I’ll neuter you with a spoon!
Yay for clicker training on mainstream TV! Of course, he is not using it correctly. Even Conan seems to know that the clicker isn’t doing its job in his guest’s hands.
Ferrell is a dog owner, I believe, and he probably does know how to use a clicker. Otherwise I’m not sure he would’ve been able to spoof bad dog training so well.
One of the first rules that a human learns when he or she gets a clicker? The click is ALWAYS immediately followed by a reward, so you can’t click-click-click-click castanets-style like he does. You have to click-treat, click-treat, click-treat. The sound of the click indicates that some kind of reward is going to follow. In order for the tool to be effective, the connection between the arbitrary marker (the click) and the reward (a food treat, usually) shouldn’t be broken. Even if you’ve just clicked by mistake, you still give a treat. Otherwise, you’re just watering down your currency and the tool loses its meaning. I hope that the dogs used in this bit weren’t actually clicker trained–if they were they were probably all kinds of confused. The white dog in the front looks like she probably does know the classically conditioned meaning of the clicker–I’m thinking that’s why she’s staying so close to him. She’s trying to figure out what the hell he’s doing and when she’s going to get the good stuff that that noise always indicates. In human world, it’d be like having your boss give you 20 paychecks all at once and then having them all bounce. It might make you less psyched to accept his checks in the future.
Another reason not to click in quick succession like this? As Ferrell demonstrates: You’ll look like a freak.
(As all the millions of other geeky positive reinforcement dog trainers tuning in to this might have noticed, he happens to be using the StarMark clicker. Totally my favorite kind of clicker! Could this be considered the first celebrity endorsed clicker? I hope their PR people have taken note!)