Smokey and the Bandit, two 6-month-old Doberman pinchers, sit waiting to see which one is going to go first. As I walk up to their gate, they leap with excitement. After a few weeks of training they know what to expect.It is time for work and work is fun. They have already mastered the basics: the heel, the sit, and the down commands. These dogs have never felt the jerk of a leash or the pinch of a collar to learn these commands. Instead, clicker training has been used to take the dogs natural behavior and shape it into desired behavior. What is clicker training?
Clicker training is a training method for teaching behavior with positive reinforcement. You use the sound of a toy clicker to tell the animal when it's doing what you want. The system was first widely used by dolphin trainers, who needed a way to teach behavior without using physical force, and it has become increasingly popular with other animal trainers because of its gentle methods.The scientific term for it is operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is the way any animal interacts with and learns from its environment.An animal tends to repeat an action that has a positive outcome and tends not to repeat one that has negative ones.
In order for the animal to connect the positive reinforcement to the behavior that he is doing, the reinforcement must occur, as the behavior is happening, not afterwards. The actual reinforcement can't always be gotten to the animal at that precise instant, however. Trainers needed to find another way of letting the animal know that it 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 rewarding. When a conditioned reinforcer is paired with a primary reinforcer, like a treat or a pat, they become of equal importance to the animal. Enter the clicker.
The clicker is a small plastic box with a metal strip that makes a sharp, clicking sound when pushed and released. When trainers use traditional training methods on an animal, they attempt to praise the dog when it does exactly what they want, when they want it.This method is too slow when trying to mark a behavior, and sometimes, physical punishment is used. The clicking sound is faster than saying "Good dog!" and allows the trainer to mark with great precision the exact behavior for which the dog is being reinforced without the use of physical punishment. Paired with something the animal finds very reinforcing, food or a pat, the clicker becomes a powerful tool for shaping behavior.
The neat thing about clicker training is that you can use it on any animal, not just dogs, of any age, to teach desired behaviors.Here is an example. We have an 11-year-old Cocker Spaniel named Tootles. I was concern that Tootles jumping on and off the bed was becoming too hard on her joints. So, for Christmas, I bought Tootles a set of stairs to climb up onto the bed. The problem was that Tootles wanted to keep jumping straight up from the floor and jump straight down. I first had to teach Tootles that going to the stairs was rewarding. When she would approach the stairs, I would click and treat. Next, when this behavior was learned, she would be rewarded for actually touched the stairs. I continued this until she learned that going up, and down, the stairs was rewarding and the way to go.
I am not saying that clicker training is easy. It takes extra time and patience on your part. But when you consider that your pet is going to be with you for several years, the good behavior you get from clicker training is well worth the time and effort it takes to train them. If you are interested in finding out more about clicker training, you can visit the web sites www.clickertraining.com or www.clickersolutions.com.The original book on clicker training is Dont Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor.Remember, good dog training is not expensiveit is priceless.