Clicker training is a type of animal training method based on behavioral psychology. The method relies on marking a desirable behavior and then rewarding it.
The desirable behavior is typically “marked” with a clicker, which is a mechanical device that makes a short and distinct click sound. This tells the animal they did the right thing. It is a clear form of communication and when combined with positive reinforcement can be a safe, effective and humane method for teaching your dog desirable behavior that it is mentally and physically capable of doing.
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Clicker training is a method of learning that is referred to as operant conditioning. This means the animal intentionally performs a behavior to achieve some type of consequence, which can be positive or negative. Animals may also associate an object, person, place, event or action with a certain consequence.
The more that a specific environment or event is paired with a certain consequence, the stronger this association will be. This is referred to as “classical condition” and represents an automatic or reflexive behavior, instead of intentional behavior.
Even though clicker training will employ classical conditioning, at first, it will easily become operant conditioning when the animal repeats an action intentionally to receive a reward. The main difference in operant and classical conditioning is that operant conditioning provides purposeful behavior and classical conditioning creates a habitual behavior.
The main difference in clicker training and other reward-based methods is that the animal is being told the precise behavior that earned the reward. This information is provided thanks to the unique click sound, which occurs exactly when the wanted behavior does – then the reward is given.
If a dog does not hear the click, they may not connect the reward with the desired action. Or, in some cases, they may associate the reward with some unwanted action.
The click is much more powerful for training purposes than a spoken word since it is not a sound that is heard by the dog in other situations. The click means a single thing: a reward is coming because of the action performed when the click was heard.
Unlike a person’s voice, which can say the exact same word in different ways, which expresses different meanings or emotions each time, the click sounds the exact same every time it is heard – there is never a variation. People are extremely verbal creatures, but dogs are not.
It can be challenging for them to pick out the one word in the stream of words they hear people speak daily. The meaning of the click, however, is always clear. This is directed to the animal and always is always followed by good news.
The goal is to make the clicker sound exactly as the desired behavior takes place. The dog sits, the clicker is clicked, a reward is given. Clicking can be compared to taking a picture of the behavior that the trainer wants to reinforce. Once the click is heard, the dog receives something that it enjoys – usually a treat, but in some cases, it could be petting, play or something else.
Once clicker training has been done for some time, an animal will associate the sound of the click with something it enjoys – the reward. Because they want to repeat the pleasurable experience, they will repeat the action that was being performed when they heard the click.
You can essentially train any behavior by using these three steps:
This method of training is somewhat different from traditional training. The trainers will wait until the behavior is fully understood by the animal prior to use a cue. The cue refers to the actual name of the behavior, such as “sit,” or some type of hand movement or another signal. Until the dog understands the behavior, any name would be meaningless.
When the dog receives several clicks for the behavior, they will then be able to confidently repeat it, showing what it knows and being able to earn the reward. This means that it is ready to learn the behavior name. This process is referred to as “introducing the cue.”
In order to teach a dog the cue or behavior, the trainer will signal or say the cure prior to the animal repeating the behavior. After a number of repetitions, the trainer will begin to click and then give the reward when the animal performs as expected, but this should only be done after the cue is given. There should not be a click given if the animal does not receive the cue first, this will teach them to watch or listen for the cue.
A dog that is clicker trained will want to perform the desired behaviors that they have been rewarded for in the past. When they understand the cue’s meaning and they want the expected reward, they will have no issue performing the desired behavior.
If they fail to perform the behavior, then this does not mean that they are “disobeying.” At this point, the clicker needs to make sure the dog understands the cue’s meaning if the meaning of the cue is clear in any environment and if the reward is desired by the dog.
Clicker training takes time and effort on both the trainer’s part, as well as the dogs. Take some time to get to know what reward your dog will desire, which will help you with the training process. Any dog regardless of their breed or age can be clicker trained; however, it will take time, work and dedication. Take some time to get to know more about the process, which is highlighted here, to determine if this is a training method that will work for you and your dog.