Dogs and humans have had a close relationship for hundreds of years. For as long as they have been domesticated the challenge of their behavior has been at the forefront of the relationship. From the times when they accompanied Indians to the hunting fields to suburban living rooms today, being able to control our canines has been important.
Many different techniques have been used over the years; harsh discipline was probably the first and was found to instill aggression in many breeds of dogs.
Most recognizable in the past few decades has been treat training; this type of training has dominated the show dog field. This type of training is fine but there may be other options to consider.
Clicker training is a relatively new technique as applied to domestic animals but in truth, it has been used since WW II. During this time, Marian and Keller Breland formed the Animal Behavior Enterprises. They created the first marine mammal training for public exhibit and the Navy. Many great things were accomplished through their program. Sea gulls were trained to carry cameras and could search and locate life rafts and swimmers far off shore.
The same training is becoming more mainstream today. Before you start with clicker training there are a few terms that you might want to know.
Clicker- A toy noisemaker effective in training because the sound is unique, quick and consistent.
Clicker Training- A term coined by Karen Pryor and defined by her as a subset of operant conditioning using positive reinforcement, extinction, negative punishment, and an event marker to modify behavior.
Positive reinforcement- Adding a positive reward when a dog performs the desired action. For example giving the dog a small treat when he sits in order to increase the odds that he will sit on command again.
Extinction- Weakening an animal’s behavior through non-reinforcement.
Negative Punishment- Taking away something the dog wants to discourage an undesirable behavior. For instance, your pet jumps up on you by turning your back or leaving the room you are in effect punishing him.
Event Marker- A signal used to mark desired behavior at the instant it occurs. The clicker is an event marker.
These are a few common terms you would encounter in clicker training however this is not an exhaustive list. You will learn many more as you progress with the training.
What are some advantages to clicker training over other types of training? To begin with, the biggest challenge in dog training is communicating at the precise time the desired behavior occurs. With verbal reinforcement, it can take a moment to get the words out and by the time, you do, the animal may have moved from the desired position into another.
Besides the timing, our voices may vary in tone or inflection and confuse the dog. With a clicker, these are non-issues. Some people are concerned that this will condition the animal to only behave when a clicker is present this has been found to be untrue. In practice the clicker is used to teach new behaviors or fine-tune precise ones, use beyond that is not recommended.
In conclusion, if you are looking for a humane way to train your pet clicker training may be for you.
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