Clicker Training uses an event marker or signal paired with positive reinforcement to train the dog each desired individual behavior. The reinforcement may be food, play, or even freedom; whatever is most motivating to the dog and applicable for that specific training session. The marker signal, in this case a “click”, is used to precisely indicate the instant the dog performs the desired behavior. For example, if I’m training a dog to sit, I click at the exact instant the dogs butt touches the floor and then reward them with a small treat. There is nothing magic about the clicker it is just a signal. Marine mammal trainers typically use a whistle as their signal or event marker. The clicker is used as a training tool only, and once the dog has been trained the behavior the clicker is no longer used for that behavior.
Clicker Training is not a novel new approach to training for dogs. It is a form of Operant Conditioning first outlined by behavioral scientist B.F. Skinner. It has been used since the 1940’s for training a wide variety of animals and has been increasing in popularity for training dogs since the 1990’s. It is also used at marine mammal parks like Sea World as well as at many zoos throughout the world.
Clicker Training at the Shedd Aquarium – These videos from NBC News describes how the Shedd Aquarium uses clicker training with everything from whales to dogs. – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEn7kMb22bA & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqRmK7Wy92U
If you want to learn more about the power and versatility of clicker training, check out these articles:
Clicker Training: A Dog’s Point of View – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/1997/12/01/dog-training-clicker-training-a-dogs-point-of-view/
The CIA’s Most Highly-Trained Spies Weren’t Even Human-Smithsonian – This link from the October 2013 issue of the Smithsonian discusses how clicker training/operant conditioning was used to train animals for intelligence gathering. It illustrates the power and versatility of this training technique. – http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-cias-most-highly-trained-spies-werent-even-human-20149
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