Clicker training

Keller and Marian Breland created the foundation of the modern clicker training movement. In the mid-1940s, the Brelands were the first to apply clicker training to train dogs. The movement didn't, however, become popular until the early 1990s when Karen Pryor and Gary Wilkes teamed up and began to give seminars on clicker training. Pryor is a retired dolphin trainer and author of Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training (Bantam). Although Don't Shoot the Dog isn't a "how-to" training book, it provides some general rules based on the concepts of operant conditioning for influencing behavior. Meanwhile, Wilkes is an animal behaviorist and since 1987 the foremost practitioner and teacher of clicker training. (For more information about Wilkes and clicker training, go to

Clicker training is based on the concepts of operant conditioning (see the section earlier in this chapter). The dog is first trained to associate the clicker sound with getting a treat, a pleasant experience. After the dog associates the click with getting a treat, the trainer has two options:

i Option 1: The trainer can wait until the dog voluntarily offers the desired behavior on his own, such as sit. When the dog sits, the trainer clicks, marking the end of the behavior, and reinforces the behavior with a treat. This option works well with extroverted dogs that will offer a variety of behaviors in the hope that one of them will get them a treat. An introverted dog, on the other hand, may show little interest in the game. The "wait and see what happens" approach, depending on the dog, can be a lengthy process and extremely stressful for the dog — he may stop offering any behaviors and just lie down.

i Option 2: The trainer doesn't have the time or patience to wait for the desired behavior to happen, so he induces the behavior. Again, in the case of the Sit, the trainer uses a treat to get the dog to assume the sitting position, and when the dog sits, the trainer clicks, marking the end of the behavior, and gives the treat. Obviously, this approach is much more efficient than waiting for the dog to offer the desired behavior on his own.

After the dog consistently offers the behavior of sitting, for which he is rewarded with a click and a treat (Quadrant 1 — positive reinforcement), the trainer then adds a cue to the behavior, such as a command or signal, or both. The trainer waits until he thinks the dog is going to sit and says/signals "Sit." When the dog does, the trainer clicks and treats.

Now that the dog understands the cue of "Sit," the trainer eliminates the click and treat when the dog offers the behavior on his own (Quadrant 2 — negative punishment). If the trainer is looking for a different behavior, he may say "Wrong" or "Oops" to convey to the dog that he wants something else (Quadrant 3 — positive punishment, but actually a hybrid, meaning "Try again").

With a clicker the trainer can mark the end of the desired behavior with greater accuracy than he can with verbal praise, which means clearer communication with the dog. Although the dog does all the work, clicker training requires keen powers of observation and split-second timing to mark the end of the desired behavior and plenty of patience.

The ultimate object of any training is to have your dog respond reliably to your commands. Ideally, he responds to the first command. Telling your dog to do something and have him ignore you is frustrating. Think of Buddy's response in terms of choices. Do you want to teach Buddy to think he has a choice of responding to you? We don't think so. We think you want a dog that understands, after you have trained him, that he has to do what you tell him.

Establishing Trust with Your Dog

Picture Buddy chasing a cat across the road. Your heart is in your mouth because you're afraid he might get hit. When he finally returns, you're angry and soundly scold him for chasing the cat and giving you such a scare. How does Buddy look at this situation? First, he chased the cat, which was fun. Then he came back to you and was reprimanded, which was no fun at all. What you wanted to teach him was not to chase the cat. What you actually taught him was that returning to you is unpleasant.

One of the commands you want your dog to master is to come when called. To be successful, remember this principle: Whenever your dog comes to you, be nice to him. Don't do anything the dog perceives as unpleasant. If you want to give him a bath or a pill, don't just call him to you. Instead, go get him or call him, and then first give him a cookie before the bath or pill.

No matter what he may have done, be pleasant and greet him with a kind word, a pat on the head, and a smile. Teach your dog to trust you by being a safe place for him. When he's with you, follows you, or comes to you, make him feel wanted.

If you call him to you and then punish him, you undermine his trust in you. When your dog comes to you on his own and you punish him, he thinks he's being punished for coming to you. You may ask though, "How can I be nice to my dog when he brings me the remains of one of my brand-new shoes, or when he wants to jump on me with muddy paws, or when I just discovered an unwanted present on the carpet?"

We can certainly empathize with these questions, having experienced the same and similar scenarios on many occasions. We know how utterly frustrating a dog's behavior can be. What we have discovered and accepted is that at that moment in time the dog doesn't understand that he did anything wrong. He only understands your anger — but not the reason for it. As difficult as it may be, you have to grin and bear it, lest you undermine the very relationship of mutual trust you're trying to achieve through training. (Take a look at Chapter 5 for info on how to understand your dog's mind and check out Chapter 4 for info on housetraining.)

Punishment after the fact is cruel and inhumane. Even if the dog's behavior changes as a result of being punished, it changes in spite of it and not because of it. The answer lies in prevention and training. Prevention means providing the dog with plenty of outlets for his energies in the form of exercise, play, and training. It also means not putting the dog in a position where he can get at your brand-new pair of shoes. Training means teaching your dog to sit on command so that he doesn't jump on you (see Chapter 7 for training basics).

100 Dog Training Tips

100 Dog Training Tips

100 Dog Training Tips EVERY Dog Owner Should Know. Utilize These Tips to Train Your Dog to Be Obedient and Smart.

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