Clicker Training 101
I’ve decided to create this post in an attempt to answer the recent surge of clicker training related questions as to date we seem to have no formal sticky or central knowledge area. My hope is that this post will be useful for all pet owners- new and old- trainers from all types of background who have heard of clicker training, might be interested in trying it- but have no clue what it’s all about or how it works. Enjoy.
Clicker Training 101-What, Why and How are people training their dogs with a plastic sound making device?
Clicker training has been around since the late 50’s and was wide spread in the aquarium industry for training marine mammals to perform shows. Traditional methods were very ineffective with animals, which could simply swim away or hide at the bottom of the tank for half an hour. Many people can be thanked for it’s development, but Karen Pryor is the pioneer respnsible for bringing clicker training to dry land and to be used with dogs. A former dolphin trainer- she couldn’t see why people were still using choke’s and e-collars to teach when there was such a simpler and fun method out there.
How does it work? You will be relieved to know a clicker is not some type of magical device which taps into a primal part of the dog’s brain and compels him to listen, nor is it a gimmick, we could train dogs with many different things, the key is in the relationship of the click noise and food. Ian Pavlov was the first to discover a novel sound or smell could be closely paired with food. His famous ringing a bell followed by delivering food was the corner stone of the field of science we know as Classical Conditioning. Ian discovered that after a short time of pairing the bell with food, the bell itself soon caused the dogs to drool- in essence the bell had become a predictor of food. The clicker works on the same principle. Alone it is a novel sound- BUT when paired closely with something your dog desires it becomes a powerful event marker, and in training can be used to communicate to your dog EXACATLY what he did correctly to earn a reinforcer. Furthermore it acts as a bridge between the time he performs the behaviour and receives the reward.
So to review:
The clicker is NOT magical; it works because of classical conditioning, the process of pairing something novel with something the dog wants. Overtime this makes the novel item/ sound/ smell/ sight a predictor of good things to come.
The clicker acts as an event marker, telling your dog exactly what he did right
The clicker acts as a bridge between the time the behaviour is performed to the delivery of the treat.
Are there any rules to Clicker Training?
Yes one, and only one- in order to keep the clicker as a predictor of good things, it MUST remain just that- a constant predictor, this means if you click- you must deliver a reinforcer- unless you want to wash away the meaning and effectiveness of the clicker. Does this mean you need to click every behaviour- No, in fact once your dog has the behaviour on cue, you no longer need the clicker- but during learning, if you click you MUST deliver a reinforcer. Clicking at the wrong time may set your training back temporarily, but this is easily over come- however washing away the value of the clicker will not be as easy to overcome.
So I understand what a clicker is and why it works, but HOW do we use it to train dogs?
There are three major components of clicker training
1) Observe the behaviour- Clicker training requires a keen eye, the two types of methods to build behaviour in clicker training are capturing (waiting for the behaviour to occur on it’s own and then clicking it) and shaping (building the behaviour gradually step-by-step)
2) Mark the behaviour- Think of clicking as taking a picture of the behaviour. Your eye sight is the LCD display screen and you want to take a picture of the behaviour in progress. Near the end is fine, but it is always better to click early then late.
3) Reward the behaviour- The only guideline for this is make sure you keep the reward out of sight initially as the dog is still learning about the clicker and at this point will focus more on the reward. Second make sure you find something your dog enjoys- not something you think he enjoys. There is a big difference. Try out 6-7 different food items and observe if they are gobbled up instantly, sniffed and then eaten or passed by and rate them from 1-5 in terms of interest level. Do the same with 5 different toys ( a tug toy, chase a Frisbee, chase a ball, etc)
An example of teaching your dog to sit using capturing (that is waiting for the behaviour to be offered naturally)
Tethering when using capturing is a good idea as it limits your dogs options as to what behaviours he may perform, the instant he begins to sit click and deliver reinforcer. Repeat, taking breaks now and then. Once he is offering the sit on purpose to get the click it is time to add a cue.
Unlike in traditional training where we add the cue BEFORE the dog can perform the behaviour well, in clicker training we wait until AFTER the dog is offering the finished behaviour to add the cue. To add the cue simply say it as the dog is offering the behaviour, click and treat. Slowly move the cue back earlier and earlier. After this you can teach your dog that only cued responses get clicked and treated and un cued responses will go un clicked.
Alright, that makes sense- so what’s the deal am I stuck carrying this clicker around with me forever? No. The clicker is just for developing behaviour, once it’s on cue, the clicker is put away. After that you can move to a variable schedule of reinforcement without the clicker. Keep it in hand encase you need to touch something up.
I have read this entire post and I promise if I click I will always deliver a reinforcer- but I don’t get it what’s the big deal about clicker training, is it sooo different from just positive reinforcement?
The best result of clicker training, in my personal experience as both a crossover trainer from traditional methods and the owner of a crossover dog who was trained with collar corrections and treats is the way the “Game” is played. In traditional or even “balanced” training ( corrections plus treats) you are constantly looking for a mistake and be able to catch it to maintain a behaviour. You have to deal with maintaining your dog’s focus and fight with stress related behaviours as a result of the methods such as displacement and avoidance behaviours. With clicker training your dog wants to learn, you are the most interesting thing at that moment so there is never a power struggle going on. Furthermore it takes the dog from a passive observer to an active participant and it really shows. Lastly it creates a dog whose not afraid of trying things, the worst thing that happens when he is wrong is he doesn’t get a click- oh well try again, traditional trained dogs often go into a behaviour void when first learning clicker training because until this point, trying things has never gotten them far.
Listed below are some of my own personal training sessions with my dog Duke, who is now a confident clicker savvy dog who loves to use his mind to make me click as well as multiple videos from You tube showing clicker training in action- ENJOY.
Clicker Training the Figure 8
Some Misc Videos on Youtube ( not mine)
Clicker training your dog to LOVE handling
Neat demo of a clicker trained dog
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Last edited by Kayla; 10-07-2008 at 06:26 PM.