Posted on 21st March 2018 at 08:36
A Brief History
It was actually B. F. Skinner who first suggested using clickers with dogs back in the 1960s, however clicker training really grew in popularity in the 1990s. Seemingly overnight, clicker training grew from being used by a handful of dog trainers to millions of people across the globe, from professionals to the average pet dog owner. Though it began in domestic use as a method of teaching dogs, clicker training has been developed for an array of animals, from dogs, cats, horses, reptiles and even fish. Yes, fish! An training challenge was even born through the explosive popularity of clicker training; The Hot Dog Challenge! Can your dog carry a hot dog to you without eating it? With a clicker, anything is possible!
Why use a clicker?
There is a multitude of reasons why the clicker is useful:
• It is a clear and quick behaviour marker; the sound of a clicker is fast, distinctive and unlikely to be confused with any other sound. This makes it fantastic for marking the exact behaviour that you want! For example, if you were training your dog to stand on a box, you would click as soon as all four feet were on the box, making it very clear that this is the behaviour you want. If you were to use a verbal marker, such as ‘good dog,’ by the time you have finished saying the phrase, your dog might have begun to step off the box and might now think that this is what you wanted. This is called a superstitious behaviour; if the behaviour is marked too late, the subject thinks it is being reinforced for something other than what you are training.
• When clicker trained, animals appear to learn a lot more quickly than they do through the use of primary reinforcers alone. This is likely because, when the click is used correctly, it is so clear for the animal that there is no confusion as to what you require of it. If you were teaching your dog to sit, you would click the instant their bottom hits the floor, and then deliver a reward. If you did not use the click and just used the primary reinforcer, by the time you have delivered it, the dog might have done something else, once again creating a superstitious behaviour.
• Animals tend to retain knowledge more thoroughly when clicker trained. In her book ‘Don’t Shoot The Dog!’ Karen Pryor describes training her cousin’s cat to ‘play the piano’ one evening to entertain her cousin’s children. After that evening, no one asked the cat to perform the behaviour again. Two years later, the same cousin called to tell Pryor that they were woken one night to the sound of the piano playing; the cat had been shut in the room with the piano and, when scratching the door didn’t work, had begun to play the piano to be ‘rewarded’ by being released from the room!
• In the same book, Pryor describes how reward based training seems to produce happier animals; reward based training has been used in marine mammal training for decades, and Pryor theorises that the aspects of personality people often attribute to dolphins (playfulness, friendliness, intelligence) are not necessarily down to the species, but the way in which they are trained.
Types Of Clicker Training
There are a couple of different way to apply clicker training;
• Lure and click is the act of using your primary reinforcer to lure your dog into doing whatever you require. For example, you might raise a treat just over your dog’s head so it falls back into a sit position, then click and present it with the treat!
• Capturing is noticing a behaviour your dog already exhibits naturally and clicking and giving a treat when it performs this behaviour. A lot of trainers teach their dogs to yawn on cue using this method; when your dog yawns, simply click and treat and add a cue and your dog will yawn whenever you want it to!
• Free shaping is the act of simply waiting for your dog to perform a behaviour in stages and clicking and giving treats at each stage, gradually increasing your criteria until the animal is offering the behaviour you want. For example, you could use free shaping to teach a dog to spin by clicking when it turns its head to the left, then when it turns its head and takes a step to the left, then when it takes a half turn to the left, then a three quarter turn and eventually a full turn! This is considered to be the most effective use of clicker training as animals seem to retain what they have learned much better due to the amount of thought that goes into learning a behaviour in this way!
My dog isn’t food motivated so I can’t use clicker training.
Treats are not essential in clicker training; the primary reinforcer is whatever is reinforcing to that specific animal. For some dogs, it might be a tennis ball or simply enthusiastic praise from their owner.
You will always need the clicker.
The clicker is really useful when you are initially training the behaviour, however, once the behaviour is fully learned, the animal should offer the behaviour on whatever cue you have attached to it. If your animal won’t perform a behaviour without the clicker, it has not fully learned the behaviour!
If I use treats to train my dog, it will always expect treats or it won’t listen to me.
If you choose to use treats alongside your clicker, you will need to deliver a treat after each click during the training process. However, once your animal has learned the behaviour completely, you no longer need to present a treat each and every time your dog offers the behaviour; a treat once in a while, or a really enthusiastic ‘good dog!’ or even an ear scratch will be more than enough!
Want to learn more? Check out Jenny’s clicker training workshops at Woofs n Wiggles on our facebook page!
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