When is clicker training most useful?
A clicker is an “event marker.” By clicking at the exact instant our dogs offer a desirable behavior, we are able to communicate effectively with our dogs. A click tells a dog “Yes! I like that! Do it more often!” and is also a promise that reinforcement (generally, but not always, food) is on the way.
One of the most common questions clicker trainers are asked is, “Can’t I just use my voice?” You certainly may use your voice, and even dog owners who use a clicker are encouraged to condition another verbal marker for those times when you may not have a clicker immediately available. However, research indicates that using a clicker significantly increases the rate of acquisition for new behaviors and reduces the number of reinforcements necessary to train a new behavior. (Lindsay Wood: http://www.clickertraining.com/files/Wood_Lindsay_CLICKER_BRIDGING_STIMULUS_EFFICACY.pdf)
The second most frequently asked question is, “Will I always have to carry a clicker with me?” The answer to this question is no. Since the clicker is used to train new behaviors, once the behavior is trained and the dog understands the cue, the clicker is no longer necessary – at this point you can begin using a verbal marker instead and introducing reinforcement variety. Wood’s research indicated that using a clicker significantly increased the rate of acquisition for new behaviors but that a verbal marker was as effective as a click for maintaining known behaviors.
Though clicker training is perceived by many to be a dog training “fad,” the truth is that clicker training as a technology has been in practice for decades and is used successfully in training many species, from our own dogs and cats to exotic animals (lions and tigers and bears, oh my!), fish, birds, and marine mammals.
To learn more about how to use a clicker effectively, visit www.clickertraining.com. For more information on the science behind clicker training, including how and why clicker training directly improves our ability to communicate with the animals in our lives, I highly recommend purchasing a copy of Karen Pryor’s newest book, “Reaching the Animal Mind.”