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It is well known that you can use clicker training techniques to get dogs to fetch and cats to shake paws on cue. But can you train your ferret to ride a skateboard, your rabbit to hop through weave poles or your potbellied pig to carry a basket of flowers in her mouth?
Yes, yes and yes, replies Karen Pryor, Ph.D., a behavioral biologist from Waterford, Mass., who is regarded as one of the top authorities on animal learning and behavior using a clicker. Also agreeing is Laura Bourhenne, a certified dog and exotic animal trainer with Animal Attraction Unlimited in Woodland Hills, Calif.
Clicker training is a positive training technique that relies on operant condition to shape a desired behavior without force or cajoling. The premise is simple: When a pet performs a desired behavior, you mark that action by pressing down on a clicker device and then rewarding your pet with one of her favorite treats. Your pet quickly learns that this sound confirms she has mastered a desired behavior and that a reward is on its way.
Now, let’s get back to ferrets, rabbits and pigs. To successfully clicker train these nontraditional pets, Pryor and Bourhenne identify these steps:
"Almost anything you can teach a dog, you can teach [these nontraditional] types of pets," Pryor says. "Pigs, for example, are not good jumpers, but you can teach them to heel, back up, spin, wave, stay and other things you teach to a dog."
There are a few fun and practical perks of clicker training your ferret, rabbit or pig. Regular training sessions will foster a stronger bond between you and your pet. You get the chance to amaze friends and family members by showing them the cool tricks your critter can perform.
On the practical side, a clicker-trained pet is more apt to come when called. This is very useful when a pocket pet has escaped from her cage and you need to find her. You can also use clicker training to have your pet move to a specific place to make it easier for you to clean her cage. Finally, clicker training can teach your pet to be willing to sit still for handling, a plus when you need to trim her nails or have her examined by your veterinarian.
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