What is Clicker Training?

Clicker Training is Operant Conditioning. It goes back to the work B.F. Skinner did. It’s Behavior 101; A behavior reinforced will be repeated. The clicker it self was a stumble upon. A last minute decision at the first conference Karen Pryor gave regarding this subject. You can read all about it in her book “Don’t Shoot the Dog” .

I had my doubts at first. It was the dogs themselves that sold me. I saw so called un-trainable dogs (the highly reactive types) turning into well behaved pets, and it happened quickly. It was like they “heard” for the fist time what we wanted. We were getting through to their minds instead of fighting with their bodies. And if this was working with them you can imagine how it works with a cooperative dog.

The point being instead of training by pushing, pulling and using physical corrections you can Teach your dog (or anyone) what you want by applying Operant Conditioning. So, this is how it works; You see a behavior you like, you click, you reward, student likes the reward and wants more so they figure out how to make you click by repeating the behavior. You anticipate the behavior and “say the word” (cue/command) anticipating the click/reward the student does the behavior. Note you are NOT asking or telling YET you are labeling the behavior. Your student (dog) will hear the sound (the word) and start to anticipate the behavior that goes with it. Now for the behaviors you Do not want. For instance jumping, this one is simple, gravity is on your side, they will hit the floor many times. Click every time they hit the floor. I guarantee you they will stop and probably sit within a few clicks. For barking click the breaths in between barks. For running click every stop. They may go right back to the behavior in fact most likely they will (old patterns). You just go back to clicking and rewarding (new patterns). It’s a process, the good news is, it gets easier and much faster than you may think the behavior either goes away or reduces to a point you’re ok with.

A couple questions may come up here like rewards, and do I click forever. Rewards are what ever the student really, really, really wants not what you think they should want. I make my students work for a living, every piece of kibble, every toy, every privilege. Food is the easiest, it’s clear to the dog and to you what’s a stake. I can’t state strongly enough if they are not tring to make you click to get it, then it’s you who thinks it’s a reward not your dog. And no you do not click forever in fact if you over click you will just get a dog who begs. This is an art as well as a science. Learn to click more when your student is having trouble and less as your student “gets it”. Check out youtube and watch others clicking then Do It! And keep doing it ask others who click to help you, this is very counter intuitve to humans but extreamly clear to the anmals.

My sincere hope is that this is helpful to you and your dog, that it will bring you to a place of greater understanding regarding your pets ability to learn by problem solving. Thank you for your time and interest in reading this.

Stephanie Delaney
The Everyday Dog Positive Training