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Clicker Training 101

Positive Reinforcement is the Care First way

Why Use The Clicker?

Clicker training opens up clear communication between us and our animals by pairing “event markers” with things that are reinforcing to the animals. Event marks help bridge the time from when the animal completed the desired behavior to the reinforcer. It signals to the animal “ You did the right thing and your reward is coming.” For example if I was teaching sit with my dog:

 I would start by waiting for the moment for my dog to put it’s butt on the floor click, then deliver a treat right to the side of my dog so it would have to stand to reach it. Delivering the treat this way allows my dog to offer the behavior again. Since the sit behavior was reinforced it is more likely to occur again. I would continue to mark and reward the sit until I could predict right before my dog was about to sit.

Once I could predict when my dog was about to sit I would add the cue “sit”. To do this say “sit” right before the dog was about to sit. Then I would click as soon as his butt touched the floor. Next, deliver the treat to the side so he stands which allows me to cue the behavior again. I would continue to do this until it was clear to my dog that when I say “sit” what I am looking for is butt on the floor. A good rule of thumb is if they are responding about 80 percent of the time. Keep in mind that dogs don’t generalize well so working in a new environment you may have to go back to just marking the behavior before using the cue.

You can apply this principle to any behavior and can be really helpful with behaviors where you can get the reinforce to your animal right away, such as retrieving a newspaper.

“Charging” The Clicker

Clickers make great event markers since they are consistent. They are short so it only marks the desired behavior. Clickers can be clearly heard over all other noise and neutral so the animal has no previous associations to it and easy to use.  It’s a good idea before using the clicker to mark a behavior is giving them meaning by “charging” them. To do this click then deliver your dog a treat. After about 10-20 repetitions you should know that the clicker is “charged” because you are receiving a consistent reaction from your dog in anticipation. This may mean that your dog turns to look at you, ears go up, or some other cue.

The Name Game

In the video below you will see one of our trainers, Lea, demonstrating with Barclay how to teach a dog their name. She starts capturing eye contact by clicking when Barclay looks at her. She then reinforces by tossing a treat to the side which allows Barclay look away. Therefore she will offer eye contact again. They repeat this step until Barclay is offering eye contact reliably (finishing her treat then immediately offering eye contact). At this point, Lea adds Barclay’s name by saying “Barclay” while she is facing away-> clicking when Barclay looks at her-> then reinforcing to the side to repeat the whole process.

Lea Plays the Name Game with Barclay

Important Things To Remember:

  • The more consistent we are the faster our animals learn, so when you click reinforce even if it is a mistake
  • Dogs don’t generalize well so when working in a new place, situation, or with new distractions, it’s never a bad idea to go back to capturing the behavior before adding the cue back in
  • “Capturing”/”marking” is when you catch them doing things you would like to see happen. So you capture that moment with a click, like a camera.

If you have any questions or want to learn more about clicker training feel free to call and speak with one of our trainers. Or visit our training page to learn more about what we offer.

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