Clicker Training or Using A Reward Marker Training Basics
Clicker Training for Dogs, Clicker Training for Cats
“What is clicker training?” This is a question that is commonly asked by pet owners. But after you and your dog understand how it works and experience the results, you will ask, “How did I live without this effective training method?”
When training a dog, or cat for that matter, it is essential that your pet has immediate feedback that what he has done is correct or wrong. Immediately means within 1-2 seconds of the behavior. Animals are fast and move on to something different very quickly, so we need to be just as fast. A clicker is a tool that helps us ‘mark’ or tell our dog that he has done something correctly.
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A clicker is a little plastic box that makes a unique clicking sound. When using clicker training with a dog or cat, you will first teach your pet that the click equals a reward. This, in turn, will teach your pet that he has done something right and earned a reward. It goes something like this. You greet your dog and he is jumping around like a goofball. You say nothing and do nothing. He then puts his butt on the ground, and you immediately click then give him a treat. Your dog learns butt on the ground = click and treat, and jumping up = nothing. Over more dog training sessions, he will learn butt on the ground is the right answer, and jumping up is the wrong answer. He will start to offer SIT behavior more often to earn the click/reward.
Meaning of The Click: First, let’s start with what the dog wants: the reward. This can be treats, praise, a toy, or play. Your dog determines what is meaningful and what he will work for. This is what your dog is working for, the primary reinforcer. The click will be the conditioned, or secondary, reinforcer. You will teach your dog to associate the click with the reward. In other words, Click=Reward.
So why use a secondary reinforcer in the first place? The clicker gives a unique, quick, precise sound that enables you to catch the exact moment that the behavior happens. The click marks that specific moment that was the correct response. You won’t have to worry about getting the reward to your dog right at the second the behavior happened, because the click told him he did it right. The click is the promise that a reward is coming. It gives you a moment to reach into your pocket to collect the reward because you clicked, and your dog understands that the reward is because of the behavior he performed 10 seconds ago.
The Clicker Promise: “If I accidentally click, do I give my dog a treat?” YES! Remember, the click is a promise. You don’t want to break that promise. If you do, it will lose its effectiveness. If you do not intend to provide your dog with a reward, say something like, “What a good boy,” instead of clicking.
Praise Word vs. Clicker: “Can I use another sound or word to be the conditioned reinforcer?” Yes and No. You want to make sure it is a word, or sound that your dog will only hear when you are training. You can use a word such as YES, SMART, or even CLICK. But make sure it is only used when training and followed by a valuable reward. The clicker rules would apply to the word if you would like it to be your conditioned reinforcer. For example, YES=Treat.
Charging the Clicker: The first thing to teach your pet is that the click=reward. Once he understands that, he will then learn that he is earning the click because of something HE has done. This understanding is huge. Now your pet has learned that he has control over his life, consequences and he, in turn, becomes enthusiastic about training or pleasing you. But, let’s face it—they are in it for themselves and the fun of the game. Having a pet eager to learn results in better behavior and a lasting and meaningful relationship.
- Practice using your clicker when you are away from your dog so he can’t hear it. Make sure you understand where to press.
- You must teach your dog that the click sound means something good is going to happen.
- Make sure your dog has your full attention.
- Have some high-ranking treats ready to go.
- For the first few times, you are going to use the clicker in your pocket, or behind your back. This is in case your dog is a little nervous of the click at first. It won’t be long before the clicking sound becomes his new best friend.
- Click, and then treat. (C/T) That’s it. Repeat several times.
- After a few sessions, click, and wait to see if your dog starts looking for the reward. If he does, JACKPOT! A jackpot is something like the doggie lottery. If he isn’t looking for the treat, to back to #6 clicking and treating right away.
Once your pet starts to understand the click=reward, it’s time to teach him the click happens after something he has done right. Pick a behavior your dog knows well, maybe it’s SIT or DOWN and do the below exercise.
- Ask your dog to SIT, then the split second your dog’s butt hits the ground, click and follow through with a treat. Repeat.
- Start to use your clicker after asking your dog to do something he knows. Don’t forget to follow through with that reward.
Through clicker training, you will be able to teach your dog or any other pet how to do the right thing. By staying positive and focusing on small steps in behavior, you and your dog will be happy to learn and practice. Go grab a clicker and some pet treats, and get clicking.
Have you tried clicker training with your dog, cat or another pet? Tell me in the comments.
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