What is clicker training?
Clicker training is a method used to help us learn how dogs learn; this method is used with many species including cat, dolphin, parrot, fish, horse and even humans. Many species have benefited from this method of learning.
Clicker training is a method of positive-reinforcement based training, it uses rewards as consequences. When a dog performs behaviour unintentionally and receives a positive consequence for the behaviour this is called 'classical conditioning'. When an animal learns how to perform behaviour in order to bring about positive consequences, this is called 'operant conditioning'. Clicker training involves both 'classical conditioning and 'operant conditioning'.
The sound of the clicker is unemotional, unlike our voice which changes in tone and volume depending on our moods and emotions. It is difficult to give your dog a tasty treat the very moment he does something which pleases you, this is where clicker training can help. The sound of the clicker is a consistent sound which communicates to the dog he has done the right thing and a reward will follow after the click. The clicker is used to mark behaviour that you would like to reinforce, for example; the dog 'sits' the trainer 'clicks' then the trainer offers the dog a reward.
Clicker training differs from traditional training, because the trainer patiently waits for a behaviour to become learnt and understood by the dog before adding a 'cue' word. A cue word is something you would like to call a particular behaviour such as 'sit'. If however the dog does not perform a behaviour that the trainer has asked for, it does not mean the dog is being disobedient or stubborn, it maybe that the dog does not quite understand the cue word yet, or perhaps the environment has changed from where the dog first learnt the cue.
When humans stop using negative consequences for dogs' actions, dogs learn much quicker, happy dogs are happy to learn! You can extinguish unwanted behaviour by not rewarding it and instead clicking and rewarding behaviour that you want to reinforce. For example; a dog jumps up to greet the owner; the owner turns away and ignores the jumping up behaviour; the dog then 'sits' now the owner clicks and rewards the dog for sitting, therefore the sitting becomes reinforced and the jumping up is ignored.
Using a clicker allows the dog the opportunity to offer behaviour that can be reinforced instead of indulging in unwanted behaviour.
Clicker training is something we use to help dogs learn quickly and effectively, it is not a tool you will continually use once behaviour is learnt, instead this can then be replaced with a lower value reward or praise.
A dog learns quicker with a clicker!