Basic Training

Dog Training 101: What is Clicker Training?

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All successful dog training has been known to begin with one of the most basic preparations- clicker training. Clicker training is a method of animal training that is primarily founded on behavioral psychology which generally relies onto marking desirable behavior and then rewarding it. In clicker training, the desirable behavior of the animal is marked with the use of a clicker which is a mechanical device that creates a short, yet distinct, click sound that will tell the pet exactly when it is doing the right thing.

This well-defined form of communication enhanced with positive reinforcement is recognized not just as safe and humane, but as an effective means to teach any animal the behaviors it is mentally and physically capable of performing.

How does clicker training become effective?

Once an animal deliberately executes a particular behavior just to bring about a desired consequence, similar to what clicker-trained animals do, they are said to be learning through “operant conditioning”.  Animals, and even people, are also likely to associate an event, place, object, person, or action with a consequence, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. Now, the more a specific event is paired with a certain consequence, the stronger the association will become. This kind of learning is known as “classical conditioning” which represents an automatic or reflexive behavior, rather than an intentional one.

At first, the clicker training makes use of classical conditioning, and it rapidly turns into operant conditioning the moment the animal intentionally repeats a particular action to earn a reward. While training by means of operant conditioning causes purposeful behavior, training made by classical conditioning gives rise to habitual behaviour.

So, why use clicker training?

The key distinction between clicker training and many other forms of reward-based training is that the animal is told precisely which specific behavior earned it a reward. The information is conveyed through the unique click sound produced by the device that occurs simultaneously with the desired behavior. The action is then succeeded by a reward.

Without hearing a click at the time a particular behavior is being executed, the animal may not be able to connect the reward with such action. Or the animal may associate the reward with another, undesirable behavior. Nonetheless, with the click sound, a trainer would be able to precisely mark the action so that the animal would know exactly what it was doing.

No wonder, clicker trainers call the click a kind of an “even marker.” The click sound also bridges the behavior and its reward, known as a “bridging signal.”

Is my dog a good candidate for clicker training?

Not all dogs will immediately respond to the clicker. You may need to spend some extra time teaching him that the click is followed by a reward. Have a seat with your clicker and some treats. Click and give a treat. Repeat as often as you need to to be sure the dog associating a click with a treat.

Do you clicker train your dogs? Do you have any tips or tricks to share with our readers? We’d love to hear them!

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  1. The click sound is an “event marker,” not an “even marker.” I think this is a typo.

    I have never found a dog that doesn’t respond to clicker training. The only dogs that I have found to be slower to respond are dogs that have been trained with correction or punishment. These dogs tend to be “shut down,” unwilling to offer behaviors. They have not learned to think, like clicker savvy dogs.

    I usually spend just a few seconds conditioning a dog to the clicker, but even a dog that has not been properly conditioned will quickly learn to associate the click with a food reward. I usually count out 10 food treats and simply click and then treat 10 times to condition the dog to the clicker.

    Clicker training is highly versatile – it can be used for behavior modification as well as training in all kinds of animals.

    For more information about clicker training see my articles on Animal Info Publications:

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