Hello dog people! As promised, I am giving part 2 of the Dog Training Basics today - a post on CLICKER TRAINING! I did a post all about Positive Reinforcement to give the first set of basics, now I will follow it up with a post on Clicker Training! A very mysterious subject to some.
What Is a Clicker?
A Clicker is a small handheld plastic toy, with a push button. When you push it makes a distinct "click" noise. There are several types of clickers, but I use button clickers. See the picture below:
What is a Clicker used for in Dog Training?
This is the important part, and the part that quite honestly most people don't understand or know about. Even some students who use a clicker don't really understand WHY they are using it. As with all things, if you understand the WHY - you will have a better outcome.
To be technical: A clicker is used to MARK a behaviour that our dog exhibits. Indicating to them that they have done something that we liked, and that reinforcement is on it's way.
To use an analogy: Think of a clicker as a snapshot of the behaviour you like, capturing in time the EXACT moment that your dog did something right. When you ask for a SIT, and your dog's butt hits the floor - you want to capture that exact moment. So you click for butt on floor. Now the dog has a clear picture of what exactly they did right, and what the reinforcement they are receiving is for.
Can you train using positive reinforcement without a clicker?
Of course! But the results won't be as sharp, and likely won't happen as fast.
Using again the example of teaching our dog to sit.
Without a clicker:
- Ask dog to sit
- Dog sits
- We fumble around and grab a treat, and hand it to the dog (time passes)
- Dog gets treat
While we fumble around to get and deliver the treat, sooooo many things could have happened. The dog could have stood up. The dog could have seen a fly. The dog may have tilted his head. Any number of things could happen in between the time the dog sat & the time the dog ate the treat. This leaves a very confusing window open for the dogs. The dog gets the treat, but it isn't really clear what they are getting the treat for. Was it for standing up? Was it for my adorable head tilt? Was it because I saw a fly? IDK! It may only be one second, which doesn't seem like a lot to us - but seriously in the world of dog so many things can happen within that one second.
With a Clicker
- Ask dog to sit
- Dog sits
- We CLICK the second dog's butt touches the ground
- Now we have time to fumble around, grab our treat, and deliver it
- Dog eats treat, and has a clear picture of exactly what they did to earn this reinforcement
A clicker is a bridge. It allows us that time to be human and fumble around, while still allowing our dogs to understand exactly what the treat is for! It is a communication tool to use with your dog, to help them receive feedback and understand what is working and what isn't.
This, of course, is clicker training at it's most basic. But soon we will elaborate on more complex topics such as shaping!
Are there any behaviours you would like to teach your dog using a clicker? If so, leave a comment & we might write a step by step blog post on HOW-TO!