Clicker training originally comes from the training of dolphins and has been established in dog training and education since the late 1980s. The clicker itself is a curved spring steel that produces a clearly audible sound when pressed in. During training, the use of the clicker is combined with a reward and thus serves as an amplifier and incentive during training. With the right timing in clicker training, the dog knows exactly what he has done right. This makes learning easier during training.
Clicker training – primary and secondary amplifier
The three cornerstones of this dog training are confirmation, speed and clarity. In terms of behavioral biology, the dog is geared towards developing behaviors that are associated with the most positive result possible. It doesn’t just have to be food gain.
The confirmation can also consist of emotional attention or other things that make the dog happy. These positive experiences are referred to as “primary reinforcers” in relation to learning behavior.
If food is used during training to convey this positive confirmation, the dog often cannot make the connection between its behavior and the reward. There must be no more than a few seconds between the action and the reward for a dog to realize that it has behaved correctly. If the reward is too late, the effect is missing or behavior is conditioned that was not wanted at all.
Clicker training exercises
Clicker training enables much more precise conditioning by allowing the dog to directly relate the click to its behavior. The click is meaningless for a dog because it is not a positive experience. It is a “secondary amplifier” that must be connected to primary amplifiers.
The dog is confronted with the sound of the clicker in a low-stimulus environment. Immediately afterwards, for example, he receives a feed reward. The whole thing is repeated a few times and continued for several days. After a very short time, the dog will have connected the click with the treat and will answer this extraordinary, cracking tone with positive emotions and the expectation of food. From now on, the clicker can be used to signal the dog what he did right. Since pressing in the metal spring only takes a fraction of a second, a positive signal can be given even for very short-term actions by the dog.
Clicker training relies entirely on positive reinforcement. Even during demanding training sessions, the dog can adjust its behavior so that it leads to success. The owner has the opportunity to signal the dog very precisely what he has done correctly. Since the click noise and not the voice of the holder triggers an expectation, it is also possible for other people to use the clicker. The clarity and immediacy of the clicker signal are ideally suited to promote the training of dogs that are otherwise difficult to access.
However, the clicker’s sound is conditioning only as long as it is associated with a real reward. If this does not happen permanently, the clicker becomes ineffective. It is also important to use the clicker in a very disciplined manner. That said, it should really only sound once when the dog has done something right. There should be a short moment, but not too much time, between the clicker sound and the receipt of the treat, otherwise the dog can no longer combine the two.
Training through positive confirmation promotes the relationship with the dog and facilitates the upbringing. However, clicker training should be started with guidance if possible to avoid mistakes. It should also be considered to take the feed reward from the daily ration, because otherwise there will be imbalances in the nutrient supply.