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Clicker training has become increasingly popular
among dog trainers over the last 10 years. A former
dolphin trainer, Karen Pryor, was the first one to
bring her knowledge and experience about training with
positive reinforcement before audiences of dog
trainers, as well as other animal trainers. Her popular
book "Donít shoot the Dog" has caused a
revolution in dog training.
However, positive reinforcement training started a
lot sooner than that, with B. F. Skinner who researched
and documented his findings in the 1930s, in his
scientific work "The Behavior of Organisms."
In 1951 Skinner described the use of a clicker in his
paper "How to teach Animals."
Marian Breland, one of Skinnerís graduate
students, started her company Animal Behavior
Enterprises in 1943, and together with her first
husband Keller and later with second husband Bob Bailey
they have trained thousands of animals and well over
100 species of animals. Their video "Patient like
the Chipmunks" is a documentary of their work and
a real treat for anybody who is interested in animal
training. To learn more about the Baileys, visit their
website at www.hsnp.com/behavior/
In clicker training we apply the scientific
principles of operant conditioning in the training of
animals. Operant conditioning is the science about how
organisms learn. The principles of operant conditioning
are a fact, based on science. We all know that 2 + 2 =
4, or that if you let go of an object it will fall to
the ground; those are facts. We also know that, if you
positively reinforce a behavior, the chances that the
behavior will occur again have increased.
Operant conditioning teaches us that consequences
control behavior. That means what happens during or
immediately after a behavior controls whether or not
the behavior will be repeated or not.
All animals will work for the following:
- To make good things happen
- To prevent good things from ending/going away
- To prevent bad things from starting
- To make bad things end
Scientists and animal trainers have found that we
get best results if we use only the first two items
above, namely teaching the animal how to make good
things happen and how to prevent good things from going
away. This translates into giving the animal something
it wants when it does something we like, and not
giving, or taking away something it wants, if it doesnít
do what we like.
Since the use of punishment in the form of
corrections is not necessary to get the behaviors we
want, clicker trainers and other behavioral animal
trainers CHOOSE not to use them. As a matter of
fact, many behaviors that we train without the use of
force and corrections CANNOT be trained at all
by means of force and/or corrections.
Many species of animals cannot be trained with force
or corrections. Whales, dolphins, elephants or exotic
cats will respond to force and corrections with
aggression or by shutting down (refusing to work for
us). Domestic animals like dogs have been selectively
bred for thousands of years to be fairly tolerant to
the use of force and corrections. But just because we
CAN treat them this way, does not mean we SHOULD,
especially if we know that there are other means of
getting what we want.
How It Works:
We already know that animals will work to make good
things happen = positive reinforcement. But in order to
get the animal to do what we want, we have to find a
way to communicate to them what exactly it is that we
like. Thatís where the clicker comes in.
The clicker is a tool, to tell the animal when
exactly it does what we like. The clicker means
"Thatís it! I like what you do and you will be
reinforced for this." How does the animal know
what the clicker means? Because we pair food, or
something else that the animal is willing to work for
(toys, petting), with the clicker. The food is always
given after the click.
Within a few repetitions the animal starts to
associate the click with something that it wants. If we
now click and treat a dog every time he sits, he learns
that sitting is a good idea. Does that mean he knows
that sit means sit? No. We now have to precede the
behavior sit with the cue for sit "SITí.
Animals learn by association; if the dog hears
"SIT" every time before he sits and gets
reinforced, he will start to associate the word with
the behavior, until the cue "SIT" will
trigger the response Ė sit. It is important to
understand that dogs know how to sit, but that they
have to learn that "SIT" means sit.
Do You Have To Use A Clicker And Food All The
No. The clicker and food are only used to teach the
animal something new. Then both the clicker and the
food are faded out and the animal only requires
occasional reinforcement to maintain the behavior.
Are you curious about clicker training or have
Please check out some of the websites on the Resources
page or get one (or more) of the recommended books or
videos on the subject.
For dog training in the Las Vegas area I recommend:
Happy Tails Family Dog Training
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