As William Shakespeare would say, “To click or not to clicker train your dog? That is the question. ” A clicker is a dog training communication tool. It was first used in World War I by soldiers to signal friend or foe on the battle field. Bob Bailey used clicks or whistle blurts to train U.S. Navy Dolphins to attach bombs to undersides of ships. Later, Karen Pryor also a marine mammal trainer brought the clicker from the dolphin world to the dog training world.
Clicker training pairs a distinct sound or signal to mark a desired behavior that is followed by a rewarding reinforcer (such as a treat). One click equals one treat. The clicker is used to mark desired behavior rather than as an “attention getter.” A dog will come upon hearing the clicker because the dog knows it means a reward is forthcoming. However, using the clicker as an attention getter will decrease it’s value as a marker of desired behavior.
To give the clicker meaning (that food is forthcoming), one has to “charge the clicker”. This is accomplished by pairing a click of the clicker with the offer of a food reward. When the clicker is charged, cue the desired behavior and click upon execution of the behavior. Then reinforce with a treat after the click.
As long as there is a question in the dog’s mind as to whether or not to perform a cued behavior (e.g. a sit cue), click and treat as described above. When the dog no longer questions what the desired cue is, then the clicker can be phased out for that cue. However, it can be used again to teach a new skill.
TYPES OF CLICKERS
There are many versions of a clicker from a simple box clicker to the ones made by Triple Crown Academy (pictured above) and Karen Pryor’s IClick clicker. The simple box clicker is sometimes difficult to operate as one has to remember which end of the box to click. Whereas, the above clickers have a single button to press taking the guesswork out of the equation. The Triple Crown Academy clicker is a crisp sounding click and it fits nicely in the palm of your hand. If you’re dog is sound sensitive or you have a small hand, try the IClick as it is smaller in size and has a softer sounding click. The IClick can be found on Karen Pryor’s website and the Triple Crown Academy clicker can be found at your local PetSmart store.
PRO / CONs
A person is physically able to push a button quicker than they can say “yes” or “good” as a verbal marker. In dog training, timing of the marker is crucial. Therefore, using a clicker helps speed up the learning process as the click marked the instant the desired behavior occurred. Additionally, the click sounds the same no matter who is working with the dog. A tool that lessens the dog’s confusion as to if their behavior was correct or not will also heighten their speed of learning.
However, some people find using a clicker difficult to manage as they realize they now are in control of their dog via a leash, food treats in one hand and now a clicker in the other hand. This is a lot to handle for a new dog owner. And, if it’s cumbersome for you, don’t worry, simply replace the click with a very quick well timed verbal marker of “yes” or “good”, at the moment the dog performs the desired behavior. While not as distinct as the clicker, if timed well, you will receive a similar benefit.
So to answer the question of “to click or not to click”, it depends upon your level of coordination. If you are eager to try clicker training, place the clicker in the same hand as the leash. It will free up your other hand to dispense the treats. A clicker isn’t magic but it is an excellent teaching tool. I hope you’ll give it a try and decide to click with your dog. If so, ask Michael to show you how to clicker train your dog.