What is Clicker Training? Simply put, clicker training is an easy and effective animal training method that has become popular over the past ten years because of its gentle approach. Clicker training is also often referred to by its scientific name: operant conditioning.
At its most basic level, clicker training uses the way that a dog interacts with its environment. It encourages a dog to repeat behaviors that have positive consequences and refrain from behaviors with negative consequences.
However, in order for a dog to connect positive reinforcement with an action, it must be rewarded as good behavior occurs and not a moment afterward. Thus, a clicker becomes beneficial in training because it makes a distinct clicking sound that stands out to the ear of a dog. The clicking is quicker and more effective than praising a dog for good behavior. When a clicker is used with positive reinforcement, it becomes a powerful tool to train and improve the behavior of a dog.
How to Use Clicker Training
Clicker training is first taught by associating a clicking sound from a clicker with one treat. Your dog will quickly learn that one click equals one treat as a reward for good behavior. A dog will associate that whatever behavior they just did earned them one treat, reinforced by the clicking sound.
This proven training method can be used to train complete tricks and behaviors. Remember, in order for clicker training to be successful, you must click at the exact moment that a behavior occurs. When your dog sits, the clicker clicks.
Think of it this way: clicking is like taking a picture of the behavior you want your dog to repeat again and again. After you click to “take the picture”, you will give your dog a treat to train a behavior with positive reinforcement.
Within two or three clicks, a dog will quickly associate a click with a reward. If a dog wants another treat – which he will – he will be encouraged to repeat the good behavior again and again.
At what stage should you give up the rewards and only use the clicker for training? The answer is never! A clicker is not intended to replace a reward; it is used to emphasize that good behavior earns a treat. If you stop giving your dog rewards, the clicker will quickly lose its power as a training tool.
A strong reward after a click will yield the best training results for your dog.
Clicker Training: Put It to Practice
According to clicker training expert Karen Pryor, “101 Things to Do with a Box” is an excellent concept to use to enter into clicker training for the first time. This is a training tool taken from a dolphin research project in 1969, published in the Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior.1 The approach can be used as a crossover training tool for dogs of all ages and sizes.
Use this same training method for several sessions until basic behaviors are reinforced. From there, take it to the next level. Click the dog for nudging the box, pawing the box, getting inside of the box, dragging the box, etc.
Click the moment the behavior happens and not a second after. As soon as your dog hears the click in this second level of training, he will stop to receive a treat. The dog will understand that the click is used to mark his behavior, and he will repeat that behavior again and again to get a treat.
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