Clicker training for dogs
Clicker training, also called ‘magazine training’, is a method used to teach animals to perform a behavior through positive reinforcement. Clicker training is most commonly used with dogs and cats but has also seen success with many other species including dolphins, rabbits, horses, and even humans. Clicker training dogs has become increasingly popular over the last several years due to its gentle and effective approach.
Clicker training is a form of operant conditioning, first identified and described by the behaviorist psychologist B. F. Skinner. Operant conditioning refers to the way in which an animal interacts with, and subsequently learns from, its environment. Typically, animals will repeat behaviors that result in a positive outcome and learn to avoid actions that have negative consequences. Trainers of all animals use this fact to their advantage when they utilize positive reinforcement.
Clicker Training Dogs
Clicker training was developed by graduate students Marian Bailey and Keller Breland. While studying operant conditioning, they found they needed a way to praise and reward animals with an increased speed and accuracy than was possible with traditional methods in order to inform the animal of its success. To achieve this, it was necessary to bring in a conditioned reinforcer.
A conditioned reinforcer can be anything an animal would not normally receive for its behavior, whereas a primary reinforcer is something that an animal finds rewarding, such as something to eat. When the two are paired together in clicker training, they become of equal importance to the animal.
In clicker training dogs, a clicker acts as the conditioned reinforcer. Usually, the trainer uses a small plastic box with a metal strip that makes a clear, clicking sound when pushed, but any other type of small mechanical noisemaker is equally successful. Using a clicker has an advantage over verbal praise, as the noise is delivered faster and is easier for the dog to understand. Dogs are constantly being bombarded with vocal sounds, many of which they do not understand; however, the click is unique and can be quickly recognized.
How Clicker Training Dogs Works
The clicker is used to mark the behavior being reinforced during the acquisition phase to allow the dog to identify what is the desired behavior. The trainer makes the sound at the exact time the behavior is executed and the dog is rewarded with a treat.
To arrive at the behavior, trainers often reinforce approximations of the actual action as they become closer to what they want the dog to achieve in a process known as shaping. For example, if you wanted your dog to learn “Bang!”, you would start by clicking and providing a treat when the dog lay down on the command. As the dog progressed with the behavior, he would be required to roll slightly to one side to receive the treat. The dog would continue to need to make small improvements through tiny steps until he achieved the actual behavior.
Some dogs make the association between the clicker and treat faster than others. You can check that the dog has learned this by clicking when your dog’s attention is elsewhere. If he looks straight at you, expecting a treat, it is likely that he has made the association.
Clicker training dogs allows a behavior to be learned much quicker than when a dog must execute an entire action before he is rewarded. It allows the dog to be comfortable performing the action to increase chances of success. Clicker training is fast becoming one of the most common training methods as it is such an enjoyable and gentle technique.