Dog Training – What Is Clicker Training?

clickerClicker 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=WEn7kMb22bAhttps://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 Viewhttp://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

 

 

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Training – Clicker Training: A Dog’s Point of View

By Jade Ramsdell

Jade #2I groaned in disgust when my mom came home and announced I would be attending an obedience class. Wasn’t she aware that I already knew everything? Why was this insane woman putting me through these nonsensical commands all over again? She even seemed convinced that this “new style” of training was going to be fun! UGHHHHH…Oh well, I realized that mom was determined. At my age, I was going back to school.

The first day of class arrived much too soon. Mom packed me up in the car and off we went. The previous group was just finishing up as we arrived – a bunch of immature pups. I could comprehend the logic of their being in class, but surely not me! My class was up next. They called it “Click N’ Trick.” I found it unbelievable that these humans thought they were capable of teaching me anything new. Aside from all of the basic commands, I had already taught myself to open windows, doors, even kitchen cabinets. And they thought they could train me to do more! Well, I decided to show them. I made the decision to do a perfect down stay for the duration of the class. That would definitely teach everyone that I had nothing left to learn. Maybe then mom would give up this ridiculous idea.

Everything got quiet as the instructor started explaining to the people about animal training and some weird device called a “clicker.” (Humans need lots of explanations!) This clicker thing was made of metal and plastic and the instructor was periodically pressing down in the center of it. The clicker made an interesting noise. Against my better judgment, I was actually beginning to get curious about it. SNIFF SNIFF SNIFF, I smelled food!! I am blessed with a very sensitive nose, among other things, and knew for a fact that it was good stuff. All of sudden looking bored was not so easy. I HAD to figure out how to get that food!! Thanks to my extreme intelligence it only took me a couple of seconds to make the connection. When I heard the click that the piece of plastic made, I knew food might follow. Now, if only I could discover how to make the clicker work…

The next step was the hardest. I wanted my mom to make that plastic thing click, but she was not telling me what to do. I tried sitting – that did not work. I tried laying down – that did not work. I even tried speaking – still no click. In my confusion, I started to walk away and all of a sudden CLICK! What was going on here? Mom was clicking me for going away? That couldn’t be. Then I saw it. There in front of me was a ladder. Now I understood. I was being clicked and rewarded for going to the ladder. Next I decided to see what she would do if I put a paw on the ladder. CLICK! It was unbelievable. My mom was actually encouraging me to climb ladders. I had never been to such a weird dog training class before. It was actually kind of cool!

I really like this new style of training. Nobody is telling me what to do or placing me in awkward positions. Instead, I have to figure it all out for myself, and as we all know, us hound dogs are independent thinkers.

Mom is now teaching me how to shake my head “NO” and to walk backwards (Mom is a bit of an oddball.) My sister learned how to close the refrigerator door and sit in chairs (The sitting in chairs helps her when visiting people at the nursing home.)

By the way – mom got really well trained in this class- now she has to always look to make sure there are no ladders for me to climb on when she is not around.

Jade Ramsdell

Hounddog, First-Class

Originally published in Green Acres Kennel Shop Paw Prints, Winter 1997.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>