I Am A Cross-Over Dog And I’m Ready To Be Clicker Trained (A Follow-Up On My Learning How To Drive)

In my experience, traditional methods of teaching someone how to drive include nagging, criticizing, and sometimes yelling. I'd rather be rewarded.

Last year, I wrote a blog entry on my own experience of learning how to drive and how I felt like it would be easier if someone would teach me in a more positive manner- such as with a clicker and using shaping. I tried asking people to use a clicker to mark appropriate actions in the car so that I could be reinforced for what I was doing, but all who have been involved in teaching me how to drive refused. They thought I was crazy and argued that there was no way of breaking down behaviors in such a hectic environment. They preferred to flood me by making me drive in traffic and learning how to deal. They had me convinced that it was impossible and that I will eventually learn the way everyone else has.

As a result, I came to prefer driving on my own, so that if I made a mistake I wouldn’t be… well, punished by whoever was sitting next to me. I now feel comfortable driving locally to certain places, but will refuse to drive if there is someone else in the car. If I’m going somewhere with my fiancé, I prefer he drive. The one time I drove, I was so nervous about being criticized that I made more mistakes than ever. The other day we went to check out a new vehicle and the sales person asked if I wanted to take it around the block. Surely, I could have handled driving it around ONE block, but I couldn’t do it in fear of being judged.

Yesterday, I had offered to drive a client to my friend, Viviane’s, house. Viviane Arzoumanian of Pumpkin Pups Dog Training was going to groom my client’s difficult dog. My client had arranged for a ride from her parents, but they couldn’t make it last minute. It was raining. I’d never driven in the rain before. I was freaked out, but I did it. In talking about this experience with Viviane and telling her how “over-threshold” I’d felt, she suggested that she drive with me and teach me using the method TAGTeach. “Wait, really? How? But, with driving?,” I asked… as if it were impossible. She was surprised that I didn’t realize that we could use TAGTeach (essentially using clicker training that we employ with animals with humans) to learn how to drive. Well, I honestly thought it wasn’t possible after I was told by so many people that the way to learn driving in New York City was to just do it – even though I know the principles of how dogs learn apply to humans as well. I did ask my fiancé once to use a clicker with me in the car and he thought it was silly. I was told that if I wanted to learn driving in such a positive, methodical manner, that it was only effective in suburban and rural areas where I had the luxury of little to no distractions.

My associations with being in the car has been for the most part so negative (feelings of panic and being judged and the fear of hurting myself or others) that it was such a breath of fresh air to have someone suggest teaching me the way I know people and animals learn best. Friday will be my first TAGTeach session with Viviane. Will I become a more comfortable, confident, and happy driver? I think so.

In dog training, there is the concept of a “cross-over dog”, a dog that used to be trained with punishment and is now instead being trained with positive methods. I feel like a “cross-over driver” and I suddenly feel relieved.


4 thoughts on “I Am A Cross-Over Dog And I’m Ready To Be Clicker Trained (A Follow-Up On My Learning How To Drive)

  1. This is a great idea, Jenny and Viv! The person who taught me to drive stick (after I spent 30 years driving only automatic) was a client who really got R+ training and understood just how to break the task down into manageable parts and encourage me as I got each part right. He was essentially TAG teaching. Go for it.

  2. I’m really glad there are people willing to do this with me because I was told it was never going to work (and somehow I believed them) unless we were driving in the boonies where life is slower. The first time I ever got into a car was when I was 16. The instructor told me to get in the car… in the middle of Canal Street… and told me to drive. Crazy.

  3. I see a LOT of driver’s ed cars in Windsor Terrace. If Viv’s meeting you, she could drive you over here and then you could practice on our quiet one-way streets. I agree Canal Street is a bit much! Hey, why not just get on the Gowanus while you’re at it?

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