Over the last few years clicker training has swept across the world, but what does it involve, and what does it actually do?
The philosophy of clicker training
Clicker training is a system of training that for many followers is linked inextricably with a philosophy of never coercing or punishing an animal, on moral or ethical grounds. The technique is however firmly rooted in sound scientific principle. Many if not most clicker trainers are, or try to be, positive-only trainers.
Is it a science or an art?
Clicker training works by making use of the scientific principle of operant conditioning. Scientists have proven conclusively that the consequences of an animal’s actions will reliably predict the chance of those actions being repeated. By repeatedly providing pleasant consequences to an animal’s behaviour, the frequency of the behaviour that the trainer desires can be raised higher and higher. Undesired behaviours are ignored and if never rewarded, will naturally extinguish or ‘die out’ This may sound too good to be true but correctly applied, these principles work.
Clicker training technique
Clicker training is characterised by the use of an audible click, which marks and defines even quite tiny changes in a dog’s behaviour, which the handler desires. The dog is able to absorb and use this information to control the delivery of rewards which the handler always offers after activating the click. The click is produced by a small inexpensive plastic box with a flexible metal plate on one side. The click itself is simply a marker, and other markers, a word or a whistle for example can be used as an alternative. However, the precise and unambiguous ‘click’ of the clicker makes it highly effective. To give the click ‘meaning’ the dog is first conditioned to associated the click with the reliable delivery of a reward. This process is known as ‘charging’ and is based on another scientific principle, that of classical conditioning
Prejudice about clicker training
Clicker training for some is associated with pet dogs and parlour tricks. This is perhaps a mis-representation of this extremely exact science, which was first used outside the laboratory for training complex behaviours in marine mammals such as dolphins whose temperament and environment did not lend themselves to techniques involving corrections.
Overcoming this prejudice takes time, but little by little, gundog trainers are now beginning to show an interest in the principles and techniques of clicker training.
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