Clicker Training 101: Basic Clicker Training is the Best Training Tool
Clicker Training Basics
This is a the shortened version of a featured article found on traineddogsrock.com entitled “Operant Conditioning a/k/a Clicker Training” feel free to refer to that article for a more complete description,
Expecting to train any animal from dogs to donkeys requires a few key components, but there is one component that is mandatory, without which nothing will take place. And that is communication. Which if you really do think it through, you will agree that for all animals, (or for that matter, people) training involves communication.
It should be painfully clear, that the better the ability to communicate to the subject, the better the understanding of the material being presented. This means that the better defined, exacting and detailed, the better the communication and thus the better the rate of retention.
It is just that simple. But how do we communicate to a dog (or a person) that what they did was the correct response? There is one universal thing, all living things need, require, and want, and that is FOOD. (There are other things highly sought after, we will talk about later, but for now lets focus on Food)
That all being true, it would stand to reason that if you have communicated your wishes to your dog properly, and the dog gave you a correct response, and received a reward for that response, that would certainly increase the probability, that whatever it did to earn that treat would be repeated.
Now all that remains is to figure out how to communicate to your dog that whatever it did was the right thing to do, and deserves that treat (a/k/a reinforcement). For many years a cheap piece of equipment was used to communicate that very thing. A child’s clicker, a little rectangular box (although nowadays they come in all sizes and shapes) with a piece of spring steel that when depressed makes a clicking sound. Your dog will learn that the clicking sound will communicate all that we just discussed. (i.e. whatever it did at the moment it heard the clicker was the right thing to do, also that payment for that action is forthcoming in the form of a tasty treat.)
Of course your dog does not instinctively know all of this, so it is our job to communicate the meaning of click to doggie.
To easily explain the value of that clicker to your dog, just click and give doggie something it really likes (reinforcement), something that has high value to doggie. For example, pieces of a hotdog, cheese, or chicken, whatever rings the bell for doggie. (Since not all dogs love the same food, it is impossible to tell you what treat to use. You need to offer doggie a banquet and see what he goes for first.) Now if you repeat this click then treat process over and over, eventually doggie is going to put the pieces of this puzzle together and come to the realization that click = food.
Please understand that food is not the only reinforcement you can offer doggie. Some dogs would prefer you to play with them, or chase your thrown ball. Giving doggie what it wants is called a primary reinforcer.
Everyone has heard of Pavlov’s dogs where the sound of the bell (also called the bridge or secondary refinforcer) caused them to salivate, knowing that the primary reinforcer was on its way. In this instance it was the food. (Actually, the Pavlov story is not technically true, but it is good for explanation, for the exact sequence. See my Featured Article, “Operant Conditioning ”
Same thing here, click means food is on its way.)
Once doggie has put two and two together and knows what the click sound means, we can proceed using it as training equipment. (Doggie people call this “Charging the clicker.”)
As explained earlier, getting the click-treat increases the probability of doggie repeating the action. So the clicker captures the behavior.
There are many who feel that there is no benefit to using the clicker that a simple one word bridge would suffice. I feel that the click is a very definite sound, unlike any other, which makes it special. Plus it is instantly recognizable, unlike words which doggie hears constantly.
But to this I say, “to each their own.” If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
THIS IS A SHORTENED VERSION OF MY FEATURED ARTICLE “OPERANT CONDITIONING.” FOR A MORE COMPLETE DESCRIPTION, PLEASE REFER TO THAT ARTICLE