|Clicker Training And You|
The first question you might ask is, "What on Earth is a clicker?" Simply put, a clicker is nothing more than a small strip of metal that is enclosed in a plastic box. When the metal is pressed, it produces a distinct "click-click" sound (Note: some modern clickers are made primarily of plastic without a large metal strip, but the effect and sound is still the same). There is nothing magical about this clicker, no special instructions that come with it. Itís just a little tool that developed from a childís cricket toy many years ago. The magic of it all lies in what you can DO with this clicker. And with that question, an entire new world opens up before you. From house training to manners training, from agility training to work with people with special needs, the clicker has seen and done it all. One of the best tricks I ever taught my girl was to pick up all of her toys and put them in her toy basket each evening, using nothing but a clicker and her favorite treats to teach it. Who ever said you canít teach dogs to clean up after themselves?
The clicker works by acting as a marker to mark a behaviour at an exact moment in time that you wish to reinforce. Basically it says "THAT behaviour right THERE is what I would like you to repeat!". It is a clear and distinct sound, unlike the human voice, which is filled with so many different tones - frustration, anger, sadness, fear, joy. Humans also "babble" aimlessly throughout the day, both around and towards the dog, in which the dog struggles to determine what is "just babbling" and what is meant for him. He must learn to tune out the babbling and tune into the important things, it can be very hard on a dog! However, the clicker makes the same sound time after time, making a clear signal to the dog which is unmistakable as a marker.
Clicker training is a training method that works based on positive reinforcement. Dogs will naturally do what works - rewarded behaviours will be repeated (the concept behind positive reinforcement). There is no force required, there is no pushing the dog into position. While these techniques certainly can and do work, these methods are not based on much learning for the dog - there is very little thought process involved in having its behind pressed to the floor to sit. However, using a clicker, the dog is actively engaged in the learning process. It is almost a two-way dance between you and the dog, both communicating together to achieve a finished product. It creates a creative, thinking dog who is willing to try all sorts of behaviours (often hilarious!) to learn what is it you want to teach. A clicker trained dog thrives on figuring out the next "trick" it can learn. Training is no longer a chore, but a game that you both take part in together.
A very popular question (and misconception) of clicker training is the concept that "clicker trained dogs need the clicker and treats for life". In reality, neither of these are true. A clicker is a training tool, simply used until the dog has learned the behaviour you wish. Once the dog has learned what you have intended, and you have put the behaviour on cue (with a word or hand signal, or both), the clicker can be put away and is not needed for that behaviour ever again. The same goes for treats. Once the behaviour is well learned (over many repetitions in many locations), you can begin to ask for more before you give a treat. Or, you can use other forms of reinforcement, such as a quick game of tug or fetch, a chin scratch, or kisses and kind words. Of course, one would probably not wish to phase out treats altogether, itís always nice to reinforce the behaviours you like every once in a while. After all, donít we all like to be rewarded for good behaviour now and then?
For more information on clicker training to help you learn this wonderful training method and philosophy, please refer to some (or all!) of the suggested reading below: