What is Clicker Training?

What’s all the fuss about “clicker” training? There is an ever-increasing demand for classes teaching this method. So if you don’t already know about clicker training, here’s your chance to get a quick overview. Pavlov taught us that you can take a neutral stimulus (such as a sound of a clicker) and by pairing it multiple times with something desirable to a dog (such as a treat), the neutral stimulus (the clicker sound) will become equivalent to a treat for the dog. When this occurs, we say the clicker becomes a conditioned reinforcer.

When an animal performs a behavior, there is a consequence that follows the behavior. According to BF Skinner’s Rules of Operant Conditioning, for an animal to learn the connection of the consequence to the behavior, the consequence must occur within one second of the behavior. Therefore, when we reward a dog for a desired behavior – by giving him a treat after he sits, for example – if the dog is to understand for what he is being rewarded, we must give him the treat within one second of the sit.

If we have been pairing the clicker with the treat, then the clicker has become a conditioned rein forcer and we now have the power to communicate with our dogs both near and far in an accurate way. We can now train our dogs at a distance! Remember the one-second rule still applies. This is exactly how marine mammal trainers train dolphins. They use a whistle and fish instead of a clicker and treats, but the principle is exactly the same.

Courtesy of Carole Peeler, C&C PALS, Positive Animal Learning, 703-876-0284.

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