Clicker Training – An overview
by Elaine Clark IMDT
Why a clicker is a better “marker” than the voice
Quite simply, the clicker sound is always constant (your voice and the words you use change depending upon how you are feeling – stressed, tired, exasperated, happy ….). Also the click is much sharper and instantaneous.
How Dogs “see” the clicker
The easiest way to explain this is to take the “Fruit Machine” as an analogy. When you play a fruit machine you know you have to do something to have a chance of winning. So, if we are training a trick, such as giving a paw …..
The great bit for dogs and correct use of a clicker by the handler is that they soon work out that offering the same behaviour again is a sure-fired way of winning! If only “how” we pressed the button could ensure we won the jackpot again!!!!
The more clicker training a dog does the quicker she learns each new behaviour. Why? Because she has learnt that thinking brings results and that failure is only temporary and has gained the confidence to keep trying. She has also learnt that Mum or Dad is a great source of entertainment, is calm because she has used her brain and is, therefore, more likely to look at and listen to her parents in every environment. When I mention the word “training” my girls get more excited than when I pick up the leads (I don’t say “Walkies” for a very good reason, but that’s another story).
A popular misconception is that, by using a clicker and reward, your dog will learn only to respond to a cue if you have the clicker and reward in your hand. In fact, once a behaviour has been learnt (and we have proofed it) we put the rewards on an intermittent schedule and gradually fade them out altogether.
If this step is missed out, the dog sees the clicker as a vending machine, instead. And we all know what would happen
the first time you put money into that, press the button, look down and find nothing - you certainly would not have another go!!!!
How the trainer should see the clicker
The easiest way to explain this is to think of a camera. If you want a photo of your dog mid-jump (in the air) ……
If you want to take a photo of your dog sitting, rolling over, giving a paw etc. it is the same scenario. For “give a paw” the photo should show the paw not touching the floor – which means you have to be quick at first! (It doesn’t matter if the paw is back on the floor when the reward is delivered.)
Luring versus shaping
Either ask someone to observe or set up a camera to video the session – I don’t always see my mistakes, but I see my dogs making mistakes and so I know I have made one! Our dogs are much quicker to respond and much more consistent and accurate in the moment than we could ever hope to be.
Weaning off the clicker
Once your dog has thoroughly learnt a behaviour and the cue* you then need to begin the “weaning off clicker”. This is VERY important …. otherwise your dog will only work if you have a clicker and treats in view! (* can be verbal or a gesture.) So, let’s take “Sit!” as an example ….
Because she will have had re-inforcement from you every now and then, later in the dog’s life you will only need to revisit each lesson occasionally with the clicker. (it becomes a habit ….. my dogs sit and wait at the side of the lane when a car passes, they sometimes get a food treat, sometimes a pat, sometimes “good girl” …. it is a habit for me and them.)
A quick word about generalisation
People naturally generalise skills they have learnt – if you learn to speak French in the classroom, you can also speak French in the restaurant. This is not true for dogs when it comes to skills we have taught them (actually, some things they do generalise – things they have learnt themselves by association, fear for example).
So, for every new skill you teach your dog, take your sessions “out on tour” ..... practice at home, in different rooms, in the garden, at the
park, in the woods, in town, at the vet – in fact in all the places you would normally need your dog to use that skill. That extends not only to the environment (different
locations, differing levels of distraction), but even to your own body position and your position in relation to your dog and whether they work one-to-one with you, with another family member or
with other dogs they live with or walk with.
Have fun learning with your best friend!
Elaine Clark IMDT
Mon Copain mon Chien - The trainer your dog would choose.