… by Cathy Hughes
Operant conditioning made its major scientific debut in the 1920s, and clicker training was used for training many species of animals for commercial purposes as early as the 1940s. This thing called Click & Treat (C&T) is not a new concept.
Mountain View Dog Training has been using and teaching a C&T based method of dog training for several years. We are sold on this approach to training dogs for any task. This type of training meets the criteria for following sound operant conditioning theory with the emphasis on positive reinforcement. It is safe for both handler and dog. It is fun.
There is some confusion for new students of C&T, especially if they have been exposed to other methods of dog training in the past. Here are some common questions that we have fielded since initiating C&T at Mountain View- and their answers.
WHAT IS CLICKER TRAINING?
Clicker Training is a common term used for a type of training that is based on the positive reinforcement aspects of operant and classical conditioning. Simply put, it involves using a clicker to mark a desired behavior, followed by rewarding the dog for that behavior. Of course, that is a bare bones definition for a process that can be built upon and tailored for your individual dog training and behavior modification needs.
IS CLICKER TRAINING DIFFICULT?
Not physically. But it can seem more difficult than the more “traditional” training methods because the pressure is on you to teach and not on the dog to perform. To succeed, you need to know what makes your dog tick. If you know what motivates your dog, can predict how he will react in a given situation, are aware of his strengths and weaknesses, and are willing to adapt your training to all of those variables, then you will be well prepared for this type of training.
CAN ALL DOGS BE CLICKER TRAINED?
Barring any serious physical or psychological conditions, all dogs can benefit from this type of training.
WHERE CAN I GET A CLICKER?
MVDT provides all of our students with their first clicker and has others available for sale. Some pet stores and pet supply websites also carry clickers. DOGWISE.COM is a great source for clickers and target sticks, as well as books on clicker training.
WILL I HAVE TO CARRY A CLICKER AND TREATS AROUND FOR THE REST OF MY DOG’S LIFE?
The clicker is a training tool. Once a behavior is taught, the clicker is no longer used for it. Treats can be continued periodically but other reinforcers, such as a game of fetch or a belly rub or a smile, eventually become the reward for a behavior that has been taught.
Have more questions? There is a wonderful book entitled “CLICK FOR JOY,” authored by Melissa C. Alexander, that is a clicker Q&A book we highly recommend for those embarking on the C&T path with their dog, as well as those who already enjoy clicker training. The book can be ordered from DOGWISE.COM.