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What is Clicker Training and Why Does it Work so Well?

May 21, 2016

 

Clicker training is a super-popular training approach that has been getting a lot of recognition lately! Ever wondered what all the hype is about? 

 

Clicker training is a method of training dogs using food as a positive reinforcer, along with a "clicker," which is a mechanical device that makes a distinct noise to mark a correct behavior. 

 

In other words, when your dog does the right thing you tell him "Yes!" by clicking and following the click up with a treat. 

 

Clicker training is a safe, humane, and fast way to train dogs to do any behavior that they are physically capable of doing. 

 

Here's how it works: 

 

People and animals form associations between actions and reinforcers. This is called "classical conditioning. (Think Pavlov's dogs drooling when they hear the bell before food is served). This is how clicker training works, at least at first.

 

Once the dog learns how the clicker works, this turns into operant conditioning. In other words the dog learns that behaviors have consequences -- in the case of the clicker they learn that a correct behavior has a positive consequence (a click and a treat).

 

So as soon as the dog figures this out (which hardly takes any time at all) the dog will begin to intentionally repeat the behavior to illicit the positive response (a click and a treat). 

 

The reason this is different than traditional training methods (like popping a collar or shocking a dog) is that these methods never turn into operant conditioning. Dogs trained with forceful methods will not learn to intentionally repeat a behavior, because they are never rewarded for a correct behavior. Instead, they are punished for a negative behavior. These dogs may even become too frightened to try anything at all! 

 

Clicker trained dogs behave with purpose rather habit. They will actually try to learn new behaviors and will remember these behaviors, even years later. Clicker trained dogs become more confident and excited to try new things because they know that there will be a positive consequence for a new behavior. And if it's something we don't like, they do not need to fear us because they can just try something else to earn a reward. 

 

Clicker training is a beautiful way to communicate with your dog. 

 

A lot of people ask, "Why use a clicker? Why not just say a word?" Well, the reason we use a clicker is because a click sounds exactly the same every single time and it means one thing and one thing only: You did the right thing and a reward is coming. Our voices can vary with the time of day, our mood, and whether or not we are sick. The click never varies. 

 

Another common question is, "Why not also use punishment? Shouldn't the dog know when they're doing the wrong thing?" Well, this is a great question.

 

The important thing to know is that dogs don't think like we do, so if we punish a behavior the results can be unpredictable. In addition, oftentimes punishing one behavior can result in another, possibly even less desirable behavior.

 

Here's an example: Your dog barks at the mailman so you hit him with a newspaper to make him stop. He stops. Great, problem solved, right? Unfortunately, no. Now your dog has associated the mailman with getting hit. Who knows how he will respond next time? His barking may increase, he may hide in the corner or urinate on the floor out of fear. He may even lunge at or bite the mailman. Fearful dogs are unpredictable. And that's why we don't use fear-based training. That's why clicker training works! 

 

Another reason punishment doesn't work is that it's almost impossible to deliver the punishment in a timely enough manner for the dog to understand what they actually did that was wrong. So, to them, punishment is just a random, cruel thing that their owner does to them. How terrible to live in that kind of fear from the person who is supposed to care for you! 

 

Clicker training is a training method that creates confident dogs who want to work hard for their owners to earn a reward. Their potential is endless and they make great pets, companions, and working dogs. 

 

Interested in learning more about clicker training? Check out www.PuppyPhD.com for training programs. 

 

Local to Durango? Take a live clicker training class with Liz! Check out the class schedule at www.DurangoFamilyDogTraining.com 

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