Competency Assessment Programme (CAP)

first published July 2004
– background

When clicker training was enjoying its early wave of dispersal in the late 1990s, there were many different classes for clicker training. The training was often based on non-trainer techiniques (evolving from research projects on rats and pigeons) that lead to some recipes that did not include competent application of the methods.

At Learning About Dogs we held a range of courses to purposely develop clicker training skills. It was not easy to define what was a beginner’s class and what was more advanced. The CAP system was introduced as a clear curriculum of developing skills for any clicker trainer.

We no longer hold assessment days, video assessment or maintain a database of successful trainers. Today we are happy to publish the criteria for each of the three levels and recommend that you self-assess your own training skills.

You are welcome to use, and adapt, the programme within your own training school provided you give credit to Learning About Dogs Ltd.

Overview (CAP)

Author: KL

Clicker Training is a fast growing teaching method that has evolved into thousands of different classes and interests around the world.

Essentially the definition of a “clicker trainer” is a person who trains using a clicker. Competency is not directly measurable by the description. Some clicker trainers are reaching for the sky and able to achieve astonishing results, some clicker trainers are simply adding the clicker to an existing program of training, which may or may not be coercive.

To gain access to this powerful method the teacher (clicker trainer) needs to be skilled, very self-aware, observant, able to analyse, adjust the teaching to suit that particular dog at that particular time. As they develop their skills their understanding of the process deepens and they are able to transfer the learning to other animals, other fields of interest and have genuinely learned to communicate with another species through skilled use of the clicker.

I believe the true power of clicker training is seeded in allowing the dog to self-teach and in particular through the method of capturing the behaviour. The canine ownership of the learning results in very secure cue association and reliability of quality. The dog truly becomes involved in the learning process, becomes highly motivated and teaches us poor humans a thing or two about learning.

The Competency Assessment Program (CAP) is designed to serve two purposes:

to provide a clear pathway, with marked steps for learners to gain their skill, knowledge and understanding

to provide a (self) certification system validating competency

The self-assessment system is not intended to hi-light what a person has not achieved, but what a person has accomplished and give confidence at their achieved level.

Assessment is suggested at three grades:

Pass = 1 Demonstrates some skill, knowledge and understanding, but many areas in need of further development

Merit = 2 Demonstrates good skill, knowledge and understanding, some areas in need of further development

Distinction = 3 Demonstrates excellent skill, knowledge and understanding, in need of little, or no further development

All criteria must at least achieve a 1 to pass. Achievement in the lower level with Distinction is recommended to progress: ie: for Novice Level 2 you will should be confident at Merit or Distinction at Foundation Level 1.

Assessment should focus on the process of clicker training through the trainer’s technique, ability to be flexible, meet the needs of the dog, develop positive learning experience for the dog and communicate effectively. At no time will the dog be under test. The dog is not expected to be perfect, assessment should be looking at the trainer’s competency as demonstrated by the behaviours.

The trainer can select the exercises or behaviours to suit the dog and the environment to provide the evidence of the requirements of the criteria for that level.

Achieving Foundation and Novice level is quite sufficient for most dog owners. They will be able to train the basic behaviours required of society, with reliability in a range of situations. For those wishing to enter sports, train dogs for work or develop behaviour modification programs should follow the curriculum and be assessed at Advanced Levels.

The external assessment program is no longer available, but we can strongly recommend that self-assessment is a useful and essential process to ensure that the trainer has a secure understanding and ability to apply the skills laid out in the criteria.

Foundation Level 1

This level is assessing the basic skills of handling the rewards, clicker, lure and target stick/hand. The trainer’s ability to communication with the dog without coercion, their observation and decision making skills. Trainers would be expected to be able to add cues to behaviours and have shaped and lured simple behaviours. The assessment criteria are:

The trainer demonstrating that they can:

  1. Handle food rewards safely and efficiently.
  2. Deliver food rewards from hand or pocket.
  3. Deliver from a reserve kept off the handler.
  4. Operate the clicker in either hand with a non-visual movement.
  5. Give reasons for their choice of reward.
  6. Attach a verbal cue to a behaviour without supporting body language.
  7. Give a cue without excessive body language or unnecessary repetition.
  8. Have taught the dog to respond to the cue without excessive hesitation.
  9. Use a target stick or target hand, clicker and rewards and deliver food effectively.
  10. Have taught the dog to focus on the target and respond promptly to the target cue.
  11. Give the click appropriately to effectively communicate the rewarded behaviour.
  12. Withhold the click to gradually extend the duration of a behaviour.
  13. Deliver the reward with fluency and good timing to encourage further learning
  14. Free shape a behaviour that is interaction with a new object without giving the dog assistance from verbal or visual cues.

When self-assessing you should be able to apply these criteria and sufficiently confident to teach another person how to achieve competency in the same criteria.

Novice Level 2

This level is assessing the trainer’s ability to secure a solid foundation in achieving a consistent quality and reliability to cue and develop more complex behaviours in free shaping.

The assessment criteria are:

The trainer has demonstrated that they:

  1. Have taught a behaviour through targeting where the target has been faded.
  2. Have transferred a targeted behaviour to a new target or cue.
  3. Have achieved and maintained fluency in at least 3 behaviours
  4. Have achieved and maintained a consistent quality in at least 3 behaviours
  5. Have maintained a consistent standard of 3 behaviours in different locations
  6. Have maintained a consistent standard of 3 behaviours with distractions
  7. Can attach a verbal cue to a behaviour where the body language is variable
  8. Can attach a visual cue to a behaviour where the body language is variable
  9. Can change the cue attached to a behaviour.
  10. Can demonstrate the behaviour does not happen unless cued.
  11. Can use a different reward.
  12. Can shape a new behaviour that is a physical movement without luring or targeting
  13. Can free shape a behaviour that is interaction with a new object without giving the dog assistance from verbal or visual cues.
  14. Can continue with the free shaping by adding a physical movement to the interaction with the without giving the dog assistance from verbal or visual cues.

When self-assessing you should be able to apply these criteria and sufficiently confident to teach another person how to achieve competency in the same criteria.

 

Intermediate Level 3

The assessor will be looking for different collections of compound behaviours, advanced shaping and evidence of data collection and analysis.

The assessment criteria are:

The trainer has demonstrated that they can:

  1. Use a single cue to chain at least 3 individual behaviours where a reward is only given on completion of the chain
  2. Maintain the quality of each behaviour within the chain (above)
  3. Chain (sequence) at least 6 individual behaviours where each individual behaviour is cued and reward is only given on completion of the chain
  4. Maintain the quality of each behaviour within a chain (above)
  5. Merge at least 3 behaviours that occur simultaneously into one new behaviour
  6. Collect data demonstrating progression of learning and analyse the results.
  7. Have free shaped a new complex behavior without overtly directing the learning.

When self-assessing you should be able to apply these criteria and sufficiently confident to teach another person how to achieve competency in the same criteria.

 

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