What is Clicker Training?
How does Clicker Training work?
Clicker training has been used since the 1940’s but has only been ‘commercialized’ in the 1980’s by Karen Pryor. Pryor began her career with marine mammals, using Skinners’ operant conditioning (behaviour = consequence) principals to teach dolphins and develop marine mammal shows. Today she is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on clicker training.
Dogs require boundaries and need a rule-basis social structure to communicate and cooperate with one another and with humans. Non-Confrontational-Compliance training i.e. clicker training promotes a “feeling of security” as the result of establishing clear lines of communication and social boundaries by selectively and consistently applying incentives and appropriate deterrents to guide and shape the dog’s behaviour.
It has been suggested that training does appear to exert a strong preventative influence over behaviour and is even more effective if trained early in their lives. It has been found that NCC training was generally correlated with better-behaved dogs in two complementary directions: a decrease of undesirable behaviour and an increase of desirable behaviour.
These findings suggest that this type of training may help guide and refine a dog’s adaptation to domestic life, making it more successful and problem free. In addition to the obvious benefits of establishing limits and boundaries, the benefits of training may be related to various incidental aspects of interaction that are associated with the training process, including increased quality time spent with the dog, added exposure and socialization resulting from class attendance and a better appreciation and understanding of dog behavior by the owner.
It is important to note that dogs that have never been trained with positive reinforcement have a lower threshold for stress. As this training progresses, the natural succession requires small amounts of stress on the dog by withholding the “click” (to add duration into i.e. sit/ stays/ downs) The mental stimulation from clicker training has an added bonus of focusing the dog’s attention & hence activating the cerebral cortex, which is part of the brain responsible for higher cognitive functioning and learning.
Simply put, Clicker Training is:
1) Get the behaviour to happen (by using lure, shape, capture)
2) Mark the behaviour (“click”)
3) Reinforce the behaviour (“treat”)
4) Generalize the behaviour (practice in different environments)
5) Cue the behaviour (put it on command)
6) Fade clicker and treats
The clicker is little device (no bigger than a match box) that when pressed makes a “click” sound. Before training starts the clicker is a neutral stimulus with no meaning or value to the dog – it is just a sound.
For the clicker to have meaning to the dog we need to associate the sound of the clicker with something that has an intrinsic positive meaning to the dog i.e. food. One keeps on ‘clicking’ and treating until you see that the dog has made the connection by anticipating the treat after hearing the click. [Just like when your dog hears the sound of his lead, he KNOWS he is going for a walk.]
The clicker is now associated with a treat and will now have meaning to the dog when he hears the click. Click = treat!
The ‘click’ can now be used as an event marker. An event marker is similar to you saying “good boy”. Now when your dog does a good behaviour, you click (& reward).
Clicking allows you to reinforce a behaviour in a split second (and over a distance if need be). The click is quicker than using the words i.e. “good dog” to mark the correct behaviour, as one’s tone of voice varies at times or you could be slow to praise the exact behaviour. The click sound is brief, crisp, consistent and distinctive. The neurological advantages to using the sharp clear mechanical sound, is that it is registered quicker than ‘fuzzier’ sounds i.e. “good dog”. Even in the most highly trained animal, the word must be recognized and then interpreted, before the animal can react.
Once a behaviour is learnt and is on cue (command), the clicker and the treats are faded out. Thus if trained correctly the dog’s behaviour is not reliant on the presentation of the clicker or the treats.
Benefits of Clicker Training
Clicker trainings enables you to build a relationship of clear and consistent communication between you and your dog.
The main component to clicker training is that of positive reinforcement, there for your dog is more likely to offer new behaviours, especially during shaping exercises (i.e. down, give paw, fetching, recalls) compared to other training techniques.
In clicker training the consequence of a correct behaviour ends in positive reinforcement. The consequence of a behaviour predicts the re-occurrence of that behaviour, or not. Thus more you reinforce a behaviour, the more the behaviour will occur in the future.
Learning is easier (for any specie) if it is having fun, and clicker training is fun!
While learning to clicker train, your understanding of your dog’s behaviour increases and therefore you become a better trainer and owner.
Clicker training obedience or tricks increases the quality of the time spent with your dog.
The dog gets added exposure to different environments and socialization by going to a class.
Clicker training can increases your dog’s impulse control.
It is extremely powerful in working with abused, very fearful or phobic dogs that cannot be touched or be in close proximity to a human.
For people that tend to be overly verbal (keeping in mind that dog’s don’t understand English, OR loud English) takes all the chatter out of training, thus helping the dog to concentrate on the given task.
Clicker training is hugely mentally stimulating to the dog – as the dog really has to figure out what to do to make you “click”, which then leads to reinforcement. Dogs that are new to clicker training and puppies are usually somewhat tired after their first session of clicker work.
The end result is a better behaved dog, which means an increase of desirable behaviour and a decrease of undesirable behaviour.
“Neurological and biochemical effects of clicker training: Any time a dog receives a treat, it causes the dogs Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) to respond. This section of the nervous system is sometimes called the vegetative function of the organism and is responsible for i.e. processing foods and digestion. (Humans too experience episodes in which the PNS is active in the form of nice warm feelings, relaxation & contentment.) Anytime that a previously neutral stimulus (like the clicker) gets paired with one of these parasympathetic reactions, through classical conditioning (stimulus = stimulus), the clicker acquires the ability to produce the same pleasant effects. Thus clicker training can be use to calm a dog, make him less fearful and causes the whole training experience to be happy and enjoyable for the both of you.” Karen Pryor
“If you’ve got that clicker in your hand, you are automatically looking for something good to click. That alone is going to change you relationship. And when your dog GETS it, all of a sudden it’s the smartest dog in the world. You will find that you truly understand your dog at last, and thanks to the clicker, the dog will understand you too. A bridge has been built.” Karen Pryor
© Claire Grobbelaar