Clicker Training 101- Lesson 3 – What Is Clicker Training?


Lesson 3 - What Is Clicker Training?

Are you familiar with “Pavlov’s Dogs” or Skinner’s conditioning methods? If so, you are at least vaguely aware of what clicker training might be about.


You see, more than humans, dogs are creatures of habit. They respond reflexively to situations that we might think about critically first. In that way, then, dogs, are well suited to being trained because with the right stimuli, they will respond in a way that we find appropriate, as long as they are trained well and consistently.

That’s what Ivan Pavlov was all about. So before we get into how exactly clicker training works, let’s look at what Pavlov found about dogs.

Pavlov, a Russian psychologist, physiologist, and doctor, wondered if dogs would respond to the same “message” before getting food. What he found is that dogs salivated and showed signs of hunger before being presented with food. By ringing a bell (and using some other “notifications” to the dogs) the dogs were conditioned into knowing when they would get food. The knowledge that they were gong to get food gave the dogs a particular anticipation which led to excitement and salivating.

The concept of clicker training is quite similar to what Pavlov did with his dogs. By using a clicker to encourage certain behaviors (and to confirm particular elements of training) you are conditioning your dog to know what to do when and to be rewarded when he does well.

Although this method of dog training bears a good resemblance to what Pavlov was doing with his dogs, many also say that B.F. Skinner’s methods of “operant training” have much to do with the success rate of clicker training.

With operant training, the idea is to give the animal a response after a particular behavior is shown. In other words, if an animal behaves in a certain way, or properly responds to something, he or she is rewarded with food, water, or something else.

How do these work to create the concept of clicker training?

In essence, clicker training takes the best of both types of conditioning and uses them to help train the dog. The dogs are often inspired by the sight of the clicker and then are given affirmation of their behavior through the use of the clicker.

Seeing the clicker and performing well would be akin to the conditioning that Pavlov discovered, while hearing the clicker as confirmation of that good behavior is similar to what Skinner taught us about operant conditioning.

Ultimately, experts say, you want your dog to respond not because he sees the clicker, but to respond because he wants the positive feedback. That would be the Skinner theory of conditioning at work.

Either way, your dog is motivated to perform, or conform as the case may be, by knowing that they will hear a click and receive a treat.

So what is clicker training?

Clicker training is a method by which dog trainers (and dog owners) use a small clicker to condition the dog to behave, or conform to training criteria.

The owner or trainer uses the small clicker to reinforce the desired behavior. If the dog sits, for example, on that command, the trainer clicks the clicker and gives the dog a treat. It’s not so much the treat that is conditioning the dog, but the clicker combined with the treat.

As we go through clicker training in detail, you’ll see that eventually treats can be dispensed with and your dog will respond to the clicker and nothing more. This kind of training, then, helps to reduce your dog’s dependence on always getting a treat during the training process or as a reward for good behavior.

The click itself will provide enough reward for your dog.

What are the advantages?

Clicker training has many benefits for trainer and dog that other types of training can’t offer. These include:

  • It’s not punitive. The dog isn’t punished or berated for not following instruction
  • It’s easy for anyone to learn
  • It’s inexpensive. All that’s needed is a clicker and treats (initially)
  • It can be done anywhere by just about anyone
  • Even children can learn how to clicker train the family dog
  • It builds a bond between the owner and his dog as well as a healthy sense of mutual respect
  • It focuses on what the dog is doing right rather than what he is doing wrong. It rewards the good behavior, reinforces it and looks for more. The bad (or inaccurate) behavior is ignored
  • Dogs generally won’t experience stress related to the training experience. It’s a rewarding and enjoyable experience for the dog (and trainer)
  • If your dog is larger, it’s the best method of training you can find. You don’t have to man handle your dog to get him to sit, lay down, etc. Instead, the clicker does the work for you. Both you and your dog can appreciate that

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Filed Under: Clicker Training

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