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Clicker Training

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Brief History:

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/

Clicker Training:

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 Time?

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 more questions?

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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