CLICKER TRAINING -
The art of communication with your dog
By Doris Vaterlaus
CLICKER TRAINING IS A TRAINING METHOD WITH A SCIENTIFIC BACKGROUND
"Clicker training" is a way of training animals that has become increasingly popular in the last decades because of its gentle methods. The scientific term for it is "operant conditioning" (according to Skinner). As early as the 1960s Karen Pryor in the U.S. was training dolphins and marine mammals. She later developed this idea to train other animals such as dogs, cats, horses and even people using the clicker. Her ideas became very popular with her book "Don't Shoot the Dog".
Clicker Training was introduced in Switzerland in 1994, mainly by Doris Vaterlaus, and is gaining popularity in other European countries.
This is the way any animal (including the human kind) interacts with and learns from its environment. Simply put, an animal tends to repeat an action that has a positive consequence and tends not to repeat one that has a negative consequence. Trainers can take advantage of that natural tendency by providing positive reinforcement following an action that they want the animal to repeat. In order for the animal to connect the positive reinforcement with the behavior he is performing, the reinforcement must happen AS the behavior is occurring, NOT afterwards.
However, it is not always possible to get the actual reinforcement to the animal at that precise instant.
THE CLICKER, A CONDITIONED REINFORCER
Trainers needed to find a way of letting the animal know that he was doing the right thing, so they began using a conditioned reinforcer. A conditioned reinforcer is anything that the animal wouldn't ordinarily work to get. A primary reinforcer, on the other hand, is something that the animal automatically finds reinforcing, such as food or water. When a conditioned reinforcer is paired with a primary reinforcer, they become of equal importance to the animal. Enter the clicker as a conditioned reinforcer.
THE CLICK IS A MARKING SOUND
The clicker sound ("click-clack") is a very precise signal which
lets the dog pinpoint the right moment: what you are doing now is correct and
a reward (food, stroking, a game, etc) will follow. The
Click is NOT a command sound.
The clicker is a small plastic box with a metal strip that makes a sharp, clicking sound when pushed and released. Its value is that the unique sound doesn't get lost among other surrounding noises. It is faster than saying "Good dog!" and allows the trainer to mark with great precision the behavior for which the dog is being reinforced. Paired with something the animal finds very reinforcing, the clicker becomes a powerful tool for shaping behavior.
THE CLICKER METHOD
...Is based on positive reinforcement with a marker (the "Click") followed by a reward (treats, encouragement, stroking, etc.). The basics are easy to learn. You need good observational skills and good timing.
EVERY DOG (ANIMAL OR EVEN PERSON) CAN BE TRAINED WITH A CLICKER
You can use the clicker to train dogs of any breed, any age and at any training level.
AN IMPORTANT RULE
You click and give a treat for the positive and ignore the negative. With clicker training you therefore do not pull your dog around or correct or adversely punish him. You look for a behavior you like, click and give a treat for it and the dog understands what you want.
YOU GET WHAT YOU REINFORCE
When a specific behavior gets positively reinforced in dogs (or people as well), it will be presented more often.
The moment of the click is crucial. The click marks the precise END of the behavior. The reward follows within two or three seconds after the click. For proper learning (eg. for an exact position) it is of importance where the treat is delivered.
In the beginning, we train without using commands. Dogs don't naturally speak our language, whether it's English, French, German or any other. We have to teach the dog the meaning of our words. First, we teach the dog the desired behavior. After about 30 repetitions - when we are sure that the dog will perform the desired behavior - the command can be introduced. The dog should perform a desired behavior correctly, immediately and without hesitation. For proper learning you need about 2000 to 3000 repetitions.
Work on one criterion at a time. Increase criteria slowly, depending on the training level of your dog.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN THE DOG DOES NOT PERFORM THE DESIRED BEHAVIOUR?
This means your dog hasn't understood what is required in that particular situation, or he has had a negative experience with that exercise or place, or he has a health problem.
Try again. Don't scold your dog - just move a bit and try an easier version you are sure your dog can perform, click and reinforce and slowly increase the difficulty.
WHERE CAN YOU USE CLICKER TRAINING?
This training method can be used in everyday situations and is suitable for use in families but also in canine sports (obedience, agility, dog dancing, competition training), for behavioral problems, for zoo, circus and film animals, guide dogs for the blind, therapy dogs, service dogs (hearing dogs for the deaf, assistance dogs, for people in wheelchairs), dogs used in mine detection, etc.
HOW TO START
You will find the first exercises on my web site www.clicker.ch
I live in Switzerland with my husband and my tawny Briard bitch Stella - she acts as my demo dog and is trained in obedience and dog dancing.
I have been teaching clicker training since 1994 and my goal is to teach people a dog friendly way of understanding and training - first of all for the needs of their daily activities but also for dog sport activities or behavioural problems.
Contact details -
Clicker Training in der Schweiz, Hoehenweg 8, CH-4562 Biberist, Switzerland