Pet Articles

Dogs – Clicker Training

Clicker Training – What is a Clicker ?

A clicker is a small handheld noisemaker that makes a distinct “click” when it is pressed. Clicker training is a subset or restricted application of OPERANT CONDITIONING.

Clicker training is merely a tool that is used in operant conditioning. A clicker has also been called a bridge or a marker. Clicker training has been successfully used in animal training over the last couple of decades. Over 140 different species have been successfully “clicker trained”. Many of the animals you have seen in movies/theatrical appearances or commercials have been clicker trained.

To put it very basically, whenever an animal performs a desired action, the handler should immediately click with a hand held clicker, then deliver a reward the animal desires (such as a tasty treat). The animal will associate the click as a marker that clues the animal when it does a specific action, they will get a reward.

What is Operant Conditioning (O C) ?

OC states that much of behavior is under control of it’s consequences. (OC forms an association between doing a particular behavior and a consequence). There are four possible consequences to any behavior. They are:

  1. Something Good can start or be presented (positive reinforcement)
  2. Something Good can end or be taken away (negative punishment)
  3. Something Bad can start or be presented (positive punishment) 4.Something Bad can end or be taken away (negative reinforcement)

Consequences have to be immediate or clearly linked to the behavior. With verbal humans, we can explain the connection between the consequence and the behavior, even if they are separated by a long length of time. For example, you might tell a friend that you’ll buy dinner for them since they helped you work on your car last week or a parent might explain that the child can’t go to the movies because of his bad grades. With very young children, other humans who don’t have verbal skills, and animals, you can’t explain the connection between the consequence and the behavior. For the animal, the consequence has to be immediate. The way to work around this need for immediacy is to use a bridge (a clicker) to “mark” a behavior and then deliver the consequence.

What is positive reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement is the use of rewards (whatever an animal desires, such as food or a favorite toy) to get an animal to continually perform a desired behavior, such as sitting, laying down or shaking a paw. Rewards have to
be relevant (valuable) to the particular animal. Some dogs may love a particular brand of treat while others may turn their noses up at it.

What is negative reinforcement?

Negative reinforcement is when you take away something bad to get a desired behavior to increase. When you get into a car, and the seatbelt warning alarm makes a continued high pitch ring until you fasten your seat belt, the car
manufacturers are using negative reinforcement. The alarm stops once you fasten your seat belt, which will increase the likely hood of you fastening the seatbelt in the future. Negative reinforcement can lead to fear responses in an animal and can actually “shut” the animal down. It is NOT an appropriate tool to use in training anything new to your animal.

What is positive punishment?

Positive punishment is the use of verbal scolding or physical ‘punishment’ to get an animal to stop doing an undesirable behavior. Positive punishment can lead to aggression, as it promotes a fear-based response in an animal. Animals learn quicker by being rewarded for a particular action rather than being punished.

What is negative punishment?

Negative Punishment is taking away an anticipated reward. An example would be picking up the dog’s leash to go for a walk but putting it down the second the dog jumps or barks at you. Negative punishment can be used to teach self
control in animals as it usually only results in some frustration at first until the animal understands he can make the “good” thing come back by acting

My dog is afraid of the clicker

If you notice the animal is shying away from the click (the sound is unfamiliar and may frighten a stressed out dog), you can either muffle the sound so that it is not as loud, or discontinue the clicker session (if the animal seems to be very stressed, tail tucked, fearful body language, avoiding). Some ways of muffling the ‘click’ are as follows:

  • Hide the clicker behind your back
  • Place the clicker in your pocket. Click from inside your pocket.
  • Wrap the clicker in a small towel

Do I have to click and treat every time?

Yes!!! You are conditioning your dog to respond to the clicker and then you will be using the clicker to mark behaviors. Remember to click and immediately reward after each successful behavior that you are trying to teach. Do NOT click and then fudge on the reward. You MUST deliver a reward to the animal every time you click. Do NOT click multiple times in a row and then offer one single reward. The ratio is one click = one reward. Do
NOT point the clicker at your dog like a remote control. Hold your hand casually at your side and click when your dog does something you want to reinforce (don’t forget to immediately reward the dog as well!)

Why Can’t I use my voice instead of the clicker?

The “click” from a clicker is a very distinguishable sound. The click is non-emotional, has the same pitch and tone and is different than other sounds
in the environment. Voices vary widely from person to person. The click will stay the same no matter who uses the clicker.

Article courtesy of the Humane Society of Silicon Valley

Leave a Comment

(Additional questions? Ask them for free in our dog - cat - pet forum)