Guinea pigs are stupid and boring? No way! With clicker training, you can stimulate your furry friends both mentally and physically.
What is clicker training?
Clicker training is a positive animal training method, based on behavioural psychology. It aims to tell an animal when it’s doing something right and to reward it for that desired behaviour. Whenever the animal hears the “click” sound – which it comes to associate with a reward – it knows that its behaviour was correct. Clicker training only rewards; it never punishes. The key to clicker training is clear communication: it’s humane and highly effective and can be used with any animal.
- Find an object that you can use to make a clicking sound (a clicker). This could be an actual clicker device or, for example, a retractable ballpoint pen. Once you’ve started to use a particular clicker in the training, always use the same object. Your guinea pig needs a clearly identifiable and consistent signal.
- Cut up some of your guinea pig’s favourite vegetables – carrots, cucumbers, etc. – into very small pieces. You’ll use these as rewards. Small rewards mean your guinea pig won’t spend too long chewing them and forget what the reward was for.
Training step by step:
- Step – Associating the click with the reward: In this phase, your guinea pig is given a treat immediately after every click and will thus learn to associate the signal with the reward. The association is successful once the guinea pig starts looking excitedly for the reward whenever it hears the click sound.
- Step – Simple exercises: Once the guinea pig has made the connection between the click and the reward, you can begin with the first simple exercises. For example, this could be touching a given object with its nose. As soon as the animal shows interest in the object, sniffs at it and touches it, you should make the click sound and give a reward. Your guinea pig will learn what behaviour is required of it – in other words, what behaviour is correct.
- Step – Now the training can proceed to more advanced exercises: Use the same object as in Step 2, but this time require the guinea pig to behave differently – for example, put its front foot on the object or push the object around. If nosing the object no longer results in a click and a reward, after a few attempts the animal will try different behaviours. As soon as it does what is now required, you must immediately reward it with a click and a treat.
Once your guinea pig has grasped the basics, there’s no limit to what you can achieve together. Your four-legged friend can learn to jump over small hurdles, run through tunnels, turn things over or even carry things – all great ways of keeping fit and mentally stimulated.
It’s important not to overwhelm your guinea pig – it should have fun training with you.
Points to remember:
- During training, it’s best to isolate the guinea pig from the rest of the group to prevent the animals from distracting each other. A quiet, familiar environment with few distractions will help the guinea pig to concentrate on the task and the sound of the click.
- Always click first, then reward.
- Always click when the guinea pig is behaving as required. Undesired behaviour should just be ignored and never punished.
- Begin with brief training sessions and gradually make them longer: this will allow the guinea pig to develop its ability to concentrate. Levels of concentration will vary according to age and intelligence. Initially, only practise for a couple of minutes. A training session shouldn’t last more than 10 to 15 minutes.
- Only increase the difficulty of the exercises gradually.
- Exercises that involve jumping should be avoided for older animals, to protect their joints.
- End each training session with a bigger reward, such as feeding from the trough.