Pet Tips

Clicker training – dog training – Pet tip 99

“Click and treat”. This is the saying of all clicker trainers in the dog training world. Before being used in dogs, clicker training has been used in training other animals such as dolphins and horses. Clicker training uses a small device called a clicker that the trainer uses to make a clicking noise and is associated with positive reinforcement training. This means that when the click is heard, a treat usually follows therefore the behaviour being performed is increased. In the beginning, clicker training is a form of classical conditioning, which is when an event is paired with a specific consequence. So for example, to teach a dog to sit, a clicker trainer would click and treat each time the dog sat. Eventually, the dog learns that sitting brings a yummy reward – and the click tells the dog that the reward is coming. However, once the dog associates the click with something pleasant, he begins to intentionally offer the behaviour of sitting in order to get a click and a treat. This type of learning is called operant conditioning. You are probably wondering the purpose of the click. Why not just skip the clicking part and go right to the treat? The reason why the clicker is so effective is because of its accuracy and consistency. It marks the desired behaviour at precisely the exact moment the dog is performing it. Therefore, the dog knows exactly which behaviour his owner desires. Furthermore, since the sound a clicker makes is unique and not often heard it tells the dog only one thing – that a reward is coming. Whereas a spoken word can have many consequences associated with it considering that we use our voice to communicate with our dogs.

To start training with a clicker, the trainer first waits for the dog to perform the desired behaviour or something that looks like the initial steps to the desired behaviour. For example, if I were to teach my dog to touch my hand I would start by holding my hand out. Most dogs would sniff the hand out of curiosity and the second his nose touched it, I would click and treat. I would keep repeating this until he is doing it reliably and then start presenting my hand in different spots to make sure that he really understood it. Once he is touching my hand reliably in a variety of different spots, I would add the verbal cue “touch”, present my hand then click and treat once he touches it. If he touches my hand without the verbal cue, I would not click and treat. This teaches the dog awareness, in that he needs to listen and watch for the cue in order to get a click and treat.

In clicker training, as opposed to traditional training, punishments are not used. The philosophy of clicker training is to click what you like and ignore what you don’t want. Clicker trainers believe that punishment is not a very effective way to decrease an unwanted behaviour but that when used, it rarely is connected to the undesired behaviour and only instills feelings of stress and distrust in the dog. The dog does not know why it is being punished, even though the owner says “he knows what he did wrong” and that he looks “guilty”, however these feelings are usually associated with the actual punishment.

Clicker training has many applications and is increasingly being used in place of traditional obedience in classes such as agility, flyball, rally obedience and in behaviour modification. The use of the clicker in behaviour modification is invaluable. Because the dog quickly learns that a click equals good things, the clicker can be used to change the dog’s emotions about things that may scare it, such as people and other dogs. The introduction of the clicker in the dog training world has served to enhance and further the relationship between a dog and its handler in addition to improving the way in which we train our dogs. The accuracy and consistency of the clicker and its endless applications makes it an extremely valuable tool in the toolbox of dog trainers.

By Amanda Low – writer

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