WHAT IS A CLICKER?
A clicker is a small box that makes a distinctive ‘click’ sound when pressed. There are lots of different clickers on the market but often the cheapest simplest ones are the best!
The ‘click’ sound acts as a ‘reward marker’ which pin points a desirable behaviour at the exact time the behaviour occurs. In dog training we also use verbal reward markers in the form of praise – such as ‘good dog’. We teach the dog what the ‘click’ sound means by pairing it with positive reinforcement, usually in the form of food rewards. The food rewards should come within two seconds of the ‘click’ for the dog to make the connection.
WHAT IS POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT?
Clickers can only be used with positive reinforcement training. It has been well researched that training using a reward that the dog wants is very effective. It means that the dog will be much more likely to repeat the desired behaviour again, will learn the behaviour better and will want to continue with training in the future.
HOW DID CLICKER TRAINING COME ABOUT?
Clicker training first originated in America in the 1950’s, and was initially used for training marine mammals. Once it was discovered how well it worked with killer whales and dolphins, animal trainers started using clickers with all sort of animals, dogs, cats and even chickens!
BENEFITS OF CLICKER TRAINING
Clickers can be used to pin point the exact time that a behaviour occurs. For example, when teaching a small puppy to ‘sit’, the puppy is likely to ‘sit’ very briefly and then get up and maybe have a sniff around. This can all happen in the time that it takes the owner to use the verbal reward marker ‘good dog’ and feed the dog a treat, so it is unclear to the puppy what it is being rewarded for – sitting, getting up or sniffing! The clicker removes any ambiguity.
Secondly, because it is a distinctive noise it helps to focus dogs as it is specifically used for training. Dogs often learn to filter out our human voices, especially in distracting situations! Our tone of voice can often change, particularly if we are stressed or anxious and dogs will pick up on this. A ‘click’ is always the same noise!