What is Clicker Training?
Clicker training is a method based on behavioral science that uses a marker signal followed by a reward to communicate to an animal when he has done something right.
Have you ever been to Sea World and watched an Orca whale hurl his massive body up into the air to touch a ball suspended high over the tank or a dolphin leap through a hoop on cue and wondered: “How on earth did they ever get such a powerful animal to do that?” The answer is clicker training. Although marine mammal trainers typically use a whistle instead of a clicker, the principles are the same. From zoo animals to animal-actors, from guide dogs for the blind to top agility and obedience competitors, from search and rescue dogs to family pets in dog obedience training classes everywhere, clicker training is fast becoming the preferred method of training all over the world.
The beauty of clicker training is its simplicity. If you've ever played the Hotter /Colder game, you actually already know a little bit about how to clicker train. To the animal, the click is a signal which means "Hotter" or "Yes! You are on the right track!" while no-click means "Colder" or "Try again." Once the animal learns to attend carefully to this click / no-click pattern, it becomes easy to teach him just about anything he is physically and/or mentally capable of doing. Ever wonder how to teach a dog to sit? How to teach a dog to stay? How to teach a dog to come when you call? From everyday manners to complex tricks, when training dogs with a clicker, the sky's the limit to what you can achieve!
The other great thing about dog training with a clicker is that it tends to create highly motivated learners. Clicker dogs are typically quite enthusiastic about their work because, throughout the training process, they earn a paycheck after each click, usually in the form of a small food reward. Most people enjoy their paycheck at the end of the week and dogs are no different. In this way the click comes to mean two highly reinforcing things: "Yes! You got it!" and "Yes! What you just did earned you something good!" Much like a gambler jumping for joy in a casino when the slot machine bells go off, many dogs seem to experience a similar "OH BOY!" feeling when they hear the click, and will work very hard indeed to hear it again.
Let's say you would like to teach your dog to go lay on his bed when you ask him to. Just like in the Hotter-Colder game, teaching him the clicker way involves breaking that larger task down into baby steps. First you might click the dog for looking at the bed, then for taking a step towards the bed, then for stepping onto the bed, then for sitting, and then finally for laying down all the way. Once your dog understands that going to the bed and laying down is what you want and is repeating that behavior consistently, you would then teach him the name of this new thing he's learned, so that you can ask for it without having to guide him there with the clicker anymore. The final product? You say "Go to bed!" and your dog happily sprints over and plops right down.