July 5, 2011 Issue #10 Published by Sue Skiff


Hi everyone!

It’s Tuesday, again. That means that it’s time for another edition of Silver Linings. I am straying a little from my normal pattern of writings herein, but only a little. My fingers were really flying while I wrote the following two articles. The first is an explanation of clicker training. I hope that you don’t find it too dry. The other is about coyotes. It’s a little bit of a reversal, I suppose, because the first article talks more about dolphins than it does about dogs, and the second article talks about a close relative of the dog.

Anyway, I hope that you enjoy it!

As always, I invite you to send in your comments, questions, and article submissions.

See you next week!



Dog clicker training has been around for a few decades, now. It is the most well known positive reinforcement dog training technique. Many people have misconceptions about what clicker training is; thinking that it has something to do with training a dog to obey when it hears a click. Here is a simple explanation of dog clicker training. Please forgive the amount of terminology.

First, let me give you a simple explanation of dog training using positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement means that a dog receives something that it perceives to be positive, such as a treat, at the exact moment that it displays a desired behavior. In professional circles, the treat, or other desirable, is know as the “primary reinforcer.” It is different from rewarding a dog in that a reward is given after the behavior is displayed. The dog then associates displaying the behavior with getting something positive, and therefore starts wanting to display that behavior. Thus, positive reinforcement is designed to increase the likelihood that an animal will display a behavior.

Clicker training is a type of positive reinforcement. It recognizes that it is not always possible to give an animal a primary reinforcer at the time that the animal displays the behavior. It was derived from positive reinforcement techniques used to train dolphins. In dolphin training, a whistle is used. The whistle is critical to positive reinforcement training with dolphins, because it is not possible to give a dolphin a fish at the exact moment that it does a flip, or jumps through a hoop, or picks up an object. So, dolphins are taught that when they hear a whistle, they will receive a fish. The whistle then becomes so closely associated with receiving a fish that hearing a whistle is almost the same as receiving a fish in the dolphins’ minds. The whistle is then blown at the exact moment the dolphin does a flip, or jumps through a hoop, or picks up an object. Once the dolphin hears the whistle, it swims over to get its fish. The whistle is referred to as a “secondary reinforcer” or “bridge”

The only difference between the dolphin training described above and clicker training is that a clicker is generally used as the bridge. And, of course, if you are training a dog, you will probably not be using whole, raw fish as the primary reinforcer. Since dolphins stop doing a behavior when they hear a whistle, in order to get their fish, and since clicker training is derived from dolphin training, clicker training purists teach that “the click ends the behavior.” That is, when a dog hears a click in traditional clicker training, it knows that it can stop staying, or heeling, or dancing, or whatever. However, it is assumed that the dog will want to get more positive reinforcement, and will then reset itself for the next request by its handler, once it receives its primary reinforcer.

So, that’s it, clicker training explained.


I may be in the minority here, but I like coyotes. I have a theory that humans have the biggest hatred for the animals that are the most like humans. I don’t mean animals that look most like humans, or who act most like humans. I mean animals that are most adapted, like humans, to take advantage of situations. In other words, we don’t like other opportunists. Coyotes are masters of taking advantage of situations. And, besides the fact that they are so closely related to dogs, that’s why I like them.

Before I talk about how amazing coyotes are, I need to talk about wolves. Wolver are not really adaptable. For thousands of years, wolves were at the top of the food chain. They didn’t need to adapt, because they fit their niche at the top of the food chain so well. Thus, when Europeans decided that wolves were a bad thing, it was easy to wipe them out. Wolves have been eliminated, by humans, from much of their previous range, including the entire state of California. Humans put bounties on wolves’ beautiful, majestic heads, and humans killed them.

In contrast, humans have not been able to eliminate the adaptable coyote. Why is that? Coyotes have a wonderful adaptation called “density dependent reproduction.” This means that the fewer coyotes there are, the bigger the litters of coyote puppies. And, the fewer coyotes there are, the more often female coyotes come into heat, and become pregnant. Humans set out traps and poisons to kill coyotes. They shoot coyotes. And, the coyote population doesn’t go down, because the coyotes simply have more babies. Genius!

Now, as if that wasn’t enough, coyotes being adaptable, have been able to survive, and even increase their range, in areas of high human population density. They have simply learned to eat different prey than they had previously. Unfortunately for us, though, new coyote prey items include cats and dogs.

Now, here is the most amazing thing, to me, about coyote adaptability. Coyotes used to play second fiddle to wolves. Their niche was between that of foxes and that of wolves, so they were in the middle size-wise. Well, in areas where wolves have been eliminated, coyotes have responded by taking over the wolves’ niche. That means that they are becoming larger, in some areas, approaching the size of wolves. I saw this when I lived in Yosemite in the ‘80’s. While there, I had to convince many tourists that they had not seen wolves, only large coyotes. Let’s face it, there are some large coyotes in Yosemite.

Not only are coyotes becoming larger in areas where wolves have been eliminated, but they have started hunting like wolves. Traditional coyotes are solitary hunters. They will also hunt in pairs. In the absence of wolves, however, coyotes are starting to go after larger prey items than they did in the past. In order to take down a larger prey item, a canine needs a pack. So, coyotes are starting to hunt in packs. I have seen this while hiking in Shell Ridge, an open space in Walnut Creek, Ca.

This little lesson on coyotes came out of a coyote encounter that Emma and I had while hiking on Saturday. You will have to wait for that story, however, as I have gone on long enough. Hopefully, though, you have derived something of a lesson from this. Let me paraphrase an old saying from margarine commercials: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” That is, when we go fooling around in nature by trying to eliminate the predators, Mother Nature has an answer, the ever-adaptable coyote.


It’s part of life in the 21st century. You get the kids off to school, work all day, pick the kids up at daycare, make dinner, and collapse. But, what about the dog? How do you find the time to train it to be a good citizen? Maybe, you managed to get your dog into a puppy kindergarten class, and then a basic obedience class. But, you really didn’t have time to practice the way the instructor wanted you to, and now, well now, it’s all kind of fallen by the wayside.

You know that your dog can do better. Perhaps, your dog has some behavior issues. Whether or not they’re serious issues, they make your life harder, don’t they?

So, what do you do when you’re already stretched, and you know your dog needs more? The answer is “day training.” Day training starts with a meeting with me where you describe your dog training needs, and your dog’s behavior issues. I then come to your house for an hour or so, on agreed upon days, to train your dog. You get to get on with your life, while your dog gets training and attention from a professional. And, that training and attention is customized to your and your dog’s exact needs.

Maintaining what your dog learned is also built into the day training program. At the end of each week of training, I meet with you to go over what your dog has learned, as well as what you need to do to maintain the learning. After the agreed upon number of weeks has elapsed, I return for a follow-up or two, to make sure that you and your dog are on the same page, and everyone’s happy. For more information on day training, visit my dog training website

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Silver Linings is a publication of Silver Linings Pet Services, and is published for the purpose of marketing services. The current address of Silver Linings Pet Services is: 5555 Merritt Drive Concord, Ca 94521