Clicker training is a positive reinforcement tool that can be used to train dogs. It can also be used to train dolphins, whales, lions, and people! Like many tools in our world it can seem confusing at first, but allow me to help break it down into bite-sized chunks so you can understand how to use one of the coolest things on the planet.
I always tell my private clients that they don’t have to use the clicker to train a dog by any means, but it allows people to efficiently communicate with animals. When training dogs, understanding how to communicate with them is one of the hurdles we have to overcome. The clicker is a way to overcome that hurdle.
There are two science-based principles to keep in mind when using the clicker. Using one strategy, Clickers use the same science that Pavlov researched in the 1890s during his work with dogs and their digestive system. During his research, Pavlov noticed that instead of just salivating in the presence of their food, dogs salivated in the presence of the lab technician who normally fed them whether he had food or not. He then experimented with using a bell as a trigger for salivation. He called the dogs to their food by using a bell.
After a few repetitions of presenting the food after the bell the dogs started salivating after hearing the bell even before food was present. So, Pavlov proved it was not the smell of the food but the anticipation of the event that the dogs reacted to. He called this a conditional reflex, now known as a conditioned response.
This strategy for pairing a stimulus with an event is known as Classical Conditioning, which is one strategy for using the clicker.
How can you use classical conditioning and the when working with your dog?
You can use the clicker and the theories of classical conditioning to help your dog enjoy events. Why is this important? It is important for young puppies to socialize them to the world and it is important for older dogs that might be shy or nervous around certain things in the world. It can also help aggressive dogs when used correctly. How do you use it?
Wait until your dog notices an event and then use a clicker to mark that event and then give an outstanding treat.
The other principle that can be used when using the clicker is called operant conditioning started by B.F. Skinner, a psychologist that lived from 1904-1990. Operant conditioning differs from Classical conditioning in that an animal is conditioned through learning about the consequences of voluntary behavior. You are using operant conditioning if you ask your dog to sit, and then when he sits he gets a treat. The consequence of sitting is getting a treat.
I can’t talk about Clicker training without talking about Karen Pryor. She used operant conditioning while training dolphins in the 1960s and is considered to have been the first to use the term clicker training. She is an amazing person and trainer and has written all kinds of wonderful books and has tons of other resources about clicker training at her website clickertraining.com.
DON’T HAVE A CLICKER?Don’t have a clicker? Well you have a couple options, you can visit watchandtrain.com and buy clickers there, or you can use the word, “yes”. This is another way to mark the behavior.