Clicker training is a style of training based on the work of B. F. Skinner, Bob and Marian Bailey, and Karen Pryor. Karen Pryor coined the phrase ‘clicker training’ when she was working with dolphins in the 60s (as chronicled in her excellent book, Lads Before the Wind). In clicker training a sound, usually a clicker, is used to mark a desired event. Thus the sound of the clicker is called an ‘event marker’. The click is always followed by a treat, so that the animal associates the event with something rewarding. (This is a form of Operant Conditioning.) Research has shown that rewarded (reinforced) behaviors are likely to increase.
A classic example is that of teaching the sit. Each time the dog sits he gets a click, followed by a treat. The dog will sit more and more often.
Clicker dog training is an ideal way to communicate with your dog. A partnership is created between you and your dog based on love and respect. The click is a neutral tone (neither cheerful nor angry, unlike the human voice), and will only be associated with good things. The click can instantly communicate to the dog that it has done something desirable.
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Clicker dog training is a proven method that uses positive reinforcement that can help you train your Aussie.
Reinforcement, Punishment, Extinction, and Aversives
These are terms used in Operant Conditioning. Reinforcement and Punishment can be divided into four categories.
It is imperative to remember that + and – are mathematical terms, not moral judgments!
The key to clicker dog training is helping your dog associate the sound of the clicker with something rewarding. These associations can be very powerful. (Ex: Someone walks past smelling of rose perfume. You are immediately transported back to childhood and visits to Gramma’s house, because she used rose perfume. Not just memories, but the emotions that go with them come flooding back.)
The easiest way to do this is to just start clicking. With the clicker in your hand, put your hand in a pocket or behind your back. This way the sound shouldn’t startle the dog. Click, and give your dog a delicious, pea sized treat. Keep doing this, moving your clicker hand to different positions. (This way the dog doesn’t just associate rewards with the sound coming from a particular location.) After about 15-20 clicks (it varies from dog to dog), the dog will perk up when it hears the click, and start looking around for the treat. Hooray! The dog has now made the association.
If your dog is afraid of the sound of the clicker you can soften the tone by putting layers of tape across the dimple on the clicker. Gradually remove the tape, one layer at a time, so the dog can adjust to the tone.
No, you don’t have to spend the rest of your life carrying around a clicker and a bag of treats. Once the dog has figured out the desired behavior, and is performing it reliably, you gradually start weaning off the clicker. Every click is STILL followed by a treat, you just click less often, slowly decreasing the frequency until you aren’t clicking at all. (If you think about it, you don’t need to have someone come over and cheer every time you write your name legibly. The reinforcement was valuable when you were learning it, but once you’ve mastered the skill it’s no longer necessary.)
NOTE: Remember to praise your dog! Clicking and treating (C/T) doesn’t mean we refrain from verbal praise.
If your dog isn’t interested in the treats there could be several reasons.
If your dog is too enthusiastic about taking treats from your hand, don’t despair.
For clicker dog training classes in Imperial Beach or San Diego county area contact Lynn Whinery at Bonza Canine Education.
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