Clicker training is essentially a form of positive reinforcement training. This way of training got its roots from marine mammal trainers. They needed to develop a way of communicating with the animals they worked with. It’s not like you can just jump in the water and show a dolphin what to do and it’s not like you can physically force these animals to do anything either. Marine mammal trainers generally use a whistle. If you’ve ever been to an aquarium and watched any type of dolphin show, you’ve most likely heard and saw the use of a whistle. A clicker, works in much the same way.
Think of it as a bridge. The clicker bridges the gap between the time the animal responded correctly and the time the reward is given. You can see how this would be important for marine mammal trainers to achieve. If you ask a dolphin to jump out of the water, you can’t actually reinforce the animal with food at the exact moment it does the correct behavior. This is where the clicker/whistle comes in. An animal is trained to learn that the sound of the clicker is a positive thing and leads to the reinforcer it really wants, usually food. So the clicker essentially also becomes a reinforcer, but it also acts as a direction. The animal learns that the clicker represents it has done a behavior correctly, so it begins to pay attention to what it is doing and this helps in the process of learning new behaviors. A clicker/whistle is often better than using a word like “good”. We humans have a way of being overly emotional and inconsistent, so saying “good” can sound different each time you say it. The clicker allows for a consistent and precise sound. Of course, we humans usually still verbalize our excitement of success along side the sound of the clicker.
So why is this considered positive reinforcement training? Because there are no negatives here. A behavior done incorrectly is simply ignored. There’s no need to say no, or physically attack the animal. Just time and patience. When something is done correctly, the clicker is sounded and then a reinforcer is delivered. If something is not done correctly, nothing happens and then maybe the cue is given again, or the animal adjusts itself, etc.
I’ve gone ahead and made a little video of my dog and the use of the clicker. These are all behaviors she already knows, but you’ll also get to see moments where she isn’t reinforced right away as I am waiting for her to correctly do the desired behavior. Training makes her excited so she often offers a lot of behaviors. Right now, I’m trying to teach her to do a Spanish Walk (something you normally see horses do), so you’ll see her offering up her foot a lot during the short video, even when I don’t ask for it.
© Semi Charmed Life
This post is part of the A to Z Challenge