by Melissa Alexander
From Melissa Alexander’s book “Click for Joy”
Clicker Training is both a technology for training animals and a training philosophy.
As a technology, clicker training relies on positive reinforcement rather than coercion or punishment. As in other positive methods, the trainer reinforces a desired behaviour with something the dog likes or wants. Positive reinforcement makes it more likely that the dog will repeat the behaviour in the future.
Two things, however, make clicker training unique.
- First, its practitioners emphasize the science underlying the method. Clicker training is based on the principles of operant and classical conditioning. This makes clicker training more than a method, more than a set of step-by-step recipes to get behaviour. Clicker trainers who learn the underlying principles have at their disposal a powerful set of tools that enable them to analyse behaviours, modify existing methods for individual animals, and create new methods where none previously existed.
- Second, as the trainer you use a marker signal, the clicker, to tell the animal when he does what you want. The clicker is like a camera “taking a picture” of the behaviour you are training for.
The technology is, at its core, very simple:
- Get the behaviour
- Mark the behaviour
- Reinforce the behaviour
For example, say you want to teach your dog to sit. When he sits, you click. Then you give him a bite of his favourite treat. The click means “That behaviour right there! That’s what I want!” and “You’ve earned a reward.” If you click and reinforce every time your dog sits, he will soon figure out that sitting earns a treat and offer the sit more often. You can then add a cue, “sit,” to tell him when you want him to do the behaviour.
More importantly, clicker training is more than using a clicker to train your dog. It’s a different way of thinking, a way of relating to animals that creates a partnership that is mutually reinforcing and pleasurable. As a philosophy, clicker training has evolved from the works and ideas of Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson, Bob and Marian Bailey. Turid Rugaas, Murray Sidman, and others who believe it’s possible to train a dog – or raise a family, or live a successful life – using the principle of positive reinforcement instead of coercion or force.