There is a difference between behavior that is learned and behavior that is taught. When a person learns something on their own, their sense of joy over that accomplishment encourages them to remember that action for years to come. Dogs have similar characteristics in their learning patterns, and this is why clicker training is effective. Using a clicker for dog training helps them learn the behavior you want them to perform on their own.
One of the greatest difficulties in training animals is the communication barrier. People and pets communicate differently, and believing that canines should learn our methods of communication and specific behaviors at the same time can lead to frustration on both sides. Clicker training can help overcome this obstacle by using audio stimuli to teach the dog that they are behaving appropriately. The clicker device emits a “click” sound when the owner pushes a button on the unit. Then the owner follows the sound with a reward of some kind, such as verbal praise, dog training treat, or extra attention from the owner.
Reinforcement helps with retention
What this does is teach the dog that when they perform a specific action, it is followed by immediate positive reinforcement. This is beneficial when teaching a behavior such as sitting, or lying down. If the owner says the word “sit,” the dog is not going to understand them. However, if the owner uses the clicker device immediately after the dog sits, and then follows up with praise, the dog will learn to sit with the clicker. After that, adding the verbal command to the behavior will help the animal learn what they need to do when the owner uses that specific word.
Consistency is vital
This form of training is also beneficial because it helps the owner implement consistency into training sessions. Consistency is vital when teaching a new behavior, and this isn’t always guaranteed with verbal commands. People do not always say something the exact same way every time they speak. And to test this theory, try to use the “speak now” command on a smart phone. Even a simple word such as “home” can become muddled if not spoken clearly.
People also often make the mistake of not drawing the word out when they are using it as a command. Dogs are not born knowing the human language, so they will not always understand what the owner is trying to convey.
With a clicker, there is no confusion of what is meant. There is no variation in tone, inflection, or accent when the click is heard. This consistency helps the canine learn the desired behavior quicker and retain it longer after they learn the command.
Bridging the gap
A clicker for dog training is often referred to as a bridge device because it is used to let the dog know they are behaving correctly and that a reward will soon follow. This helps with reinforcement because pushing the button is a faster way to mark good behavior than verbal praise or treats. If the dog sits and the owner says “good dog” or gives a treat, the dog may have moved on to other actions by that point. If the dog is lying down, chasing its tail, or barking at the neighbor, they may confuse the reward for that behavior. To avoid confusion, using the audible reward first then another type of reward makes sure they understand what they are being praised for.
Variety is key
When it comes to clicker training, using a variety of rewards after the marker helps to transition the animal from learning the behavior to performing it without expectation of a treat. A good way to insert variety into training is to have different types of rewards for different levels of behavior. If it is very important the animal learns a behavior, then a treat may be the best way to show them they did a good job. If it is less important that the animal learn the command, a verbal praise may be better.
For example, if there are small children in the household, teaching the animal not to jump on them may be considered important. Jumping on little children can cause the animal to hurt the child unintentionally, and may teach the child to fear the dog. Therefore, teaching the animal not to jump on people may deserve a training treat to make sure they learn the behavior better. On the other hand, teaching the dog to sit may warrant a “good boy” or a hug from the owner as a reward.
It is easier to achieve consistent sessions using a clicker for dog training. There is no confusion regarding what is expected of them, which can happen with verbal commands. It also allows the owner to let the dog know they did something right the second they complete the desired action. When followed by a reward, the positive reinforcement provides an incentive to perform that action again. Many professionals believe this is an effective and humane way to train dogs of all ages and personalities.