Clicker 101: What is Clicker Training?
The Many Uses of a Clicker for Dogs
Clicker training dogs is a relatively new way of training dogs with positive reinforcement. It focuses on rewarding good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior. The basic principle of clicker training is to mark (by clicking) something you like (e.g., sitting instead of jumping up) and then rewarding the dog for his good behavior.
The clicker itself is a small metal and plastic device that is designed to make the same sound every time you press the button. There are a variety of clickers available in most pet supply stores. Some come with a raised button that makes the clicker very easy to operate, and a few even double as whistles or other training devices.
Using clicker training is a simple process. By rewarding the dog after every click, you build an association where previously there was none. The dog learns to associate the click with a treat or reward. Dogs, like every creature, repeat behaviors that are rewarded. So we can train the dog to learn which behaviors we like (by clicking) and even which behaviors we don’t like (by not clicking).
Benefits of Clicker Training for Dogs
Clicker training offers two distinct advantages over other methods of reward-based training methods. The first is the use of a marker. The click becomes a marker of good behavior, allowing us to communicate quickly and clearly when the dog has done something we like. Behavior can be marked when the dog is close to you or far away, and when he is looking at you or not, something that is missing when training with treats alone.
The second advantage of clicker training dogs is what is known as a bridge. The span of time between when a dog offers a good behavior and when he is rewarded for that behavior is critical. Wait too long (mere seconds) and the dog won’t associate the reward with the behavior. A clicker acts as a bridge, that is, it bridges the gap between behavior and reward, allowing for more time to pass. As long as the dog hears the click immediately after the behavior he performs, he will understand what he did correctly, even if the reward is slightly delayed.
Clicker Training Dolphins, Pigs and Movie Stars!
Clicker training dogs was not the first form of this type of training. Marking wanted behaviors with a unique sound has actually been used with dolphins and other marine mammal training for many years. Instead of a click, trainers use a high pitched whistle, which is easier for the dolphin to hear. But the concept is the same: sound (whistle) means a reward (fish) is coming. Fortunately we don’t need dead fish to train dogs!
Beyond dog training, clicker training is actually used with many different species of animals, from horses and pigs to monkeys and polar bears, in zoos and other facilities around the world. Some of the most specialized and vital dog training is often accomplished with the use of clicker training. Dogs trained as TV and movie stars, and those learning service dog tasks to assist the disabled frequently learn with the use of a clicker.
Clicker training offers consistency and communication that helps a dog learn faster than they might otherwise. It allows us to teach complicated commands and modify problem behaviors, while keeping training sessions positive and fun for both the owner and the dog. Now that you understand what clicker training is, find out if it is right for you and your dog!