The first thing you need to know is, what is a clicker? The clicker is a small box type item that either has a button to press or a thumb indentation. By pressing the clicker, it makes a click sound. Hopefully that makes sense to you, but if it doesn't, here are a few of types of clicker you can buy.
The first type is a box clicker. These are the most basic, and often the least expensive, but price is a relative term, as the most I have ever spent on a clicker is maybe $5 for one. These ones will do in a pinch, but are often the loudest sounding clickers, and are clunky. I was working my dog with one a few weeks ago, and missed a couple of behaviors because I couldn't get the clicker to sound.
The second variety are the big button, iClick style. These are the ones Karen Pryor Academy (my dog training Alma Mater!) sells and reccomends the most. These clickers are probably the best sounding, easiest to use, and have a spot to attach them to a wrist coil, which is invaluable! My one problem with these clickers is that the top part where the wrist coil connects breaks fairly easily. The clicker is still usable, but you have to hold it in your hand instead of letting it hang on your arm. It's a pretty minor problem to have.
My person favorite type of clicker are the button, tear drop shaped clickers. I like how sturdy these ones are, because in my training journey, I only have broken one of these. They sound sharp, but not too loud and attach well to a wrist coil. Funny enough, the only one I ever had break on me was also my most expensive clicker.
There are other clicker variations, such as ones that attach right to your finger, ones that have a volume control and clicker/target sticks, for advanced clicker trainers. I like the clicker/target stick, but also know you could make one yourself if you want to get to this level of training.
This is where a little bit of psychology 101 comes in. The clicker is what is referred to as an event marker or a secondary reinforcement. Often, I am asked, what does the clicker tell the dog. I even saw a trainer in a particular local big box pet store using the clicker as a cue rather than as a marker. For the clicker to work, it needs to first be paired with a primary reinforcer.
A primary reinforcer is something that the learner (in this case the dog) finds to be reinforcing without having to be taught. Most often this is food, but can be toys, and sometimes praise, although it is uncommon for a dog to initially find praise to be super reinforcing. The clicker has to be paired with food, using classical conditioning.
Classical condtioning, coined by Ivan Pavlov is conditioning in which the conditioned stimulus (in this case the clicker) is paired with and precedes the unconditioned stimulus (such as the sight of food) until the conditioned stimulus alone is sufficient to elicit the response. This is called charging the clicker, where you click and then give the dog a treat without asking for any type of behavior. Most dogs understand the click means a treat within 15-20 clicks. But pairing the clicker isn't enough, and this is where opperant conditioning comes in to play.
Operant conditioning, coined by BF Skinner, is conditioning in which the desired behavior or increasingly closer approximations to it are followed by a rewarding or reinforcing stimulus. In this case, once the dog is conditioned to the clicker, and either click when the dog does something desirable on its own, interacts with an object you placed in the training area or you lured, and then immediately deliver a treat. Once a dog has learned one or two behaviors through clicker training, they will begin picking up behaviors much faster.
You can use the clicker with just about any animal. It can and has been used with any animal that has a central nervous system. You can clicker train fish, turtles, bees, bears, tigers, whales, cats, frogs, and hyenas, just to name a few. It is commonly used in zoos for medical procedures and to move an animal from one area to another.
Advantages of Clicker Training
Why is clicker training effective? There are many dog handlers who like to use a marker word instead. It follows the same idea, and is another tool that works well. So why chose another piece of equipment? For starters, the clicker is precise. If you are trying to capture (click for a behavior that the dog offers naturally, such a s tongue flick or head tilt), the clicker helps you to capture that exact movement that you are looking for. The clicker sounds the same, no matter who is working with the dog. It is a novel sound that the dog probably isn't hearing all day long. For example, sometimes I use a marker word with my dog, such as when we are running agility, because I am not allowed to use my clicker during trials. Our marker word is "Yes." However, if I am talking to a friend, and say yes excitedly, my dog is right there, wanting his treat. The clicker also carries no emotion from me. I have days where I am super frustrated with the world, and my dog picks up on it. The clicker provides just a bit of unemotional feedback. Plus, it has been proven that dogs who learn a skill with a clicker will retain that skill for life. It might get rusty if not practiced, but the dog will quickly pick it up again. Also, dogs learn slightly faster when using a clicker than a marker word.
Here are some common issues people having with the clicker and how to solve them.
Hi, I'm Rachel. I'm crazy about dogs and want to see all of them living the best life possible. Most of my free time is taken up by dogs, but when I am not working with my own or others, I also enjoy cooking, volunteer work, reading and Netflix in my pajamas.