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Clicker training is slang for “operant conditioning,” a scientifically based way of shaping behavior, focusing on the use of positive reinforcement. Pick up any psychology and textbook and look up B.F. Skinner or operant conditioning and you will learn a lot about how all of us learn. This is sometimes referred to as “learning theory,” but there is nothing theoretical about this kind of training. It works!

Clicker training has been around since the 1940s and has been used extensively in training marine mammals such as dolphins and sea lions. It has also become very popular in dog training circles where the trend toward more humane, positive training methods has been gaining momentum. Some dog trainers use the clicker only occasionally and still use other compulsive methods such as collar corrections and other kinds of punishment. The trainers at DogPACT do not. We belong to the group of clicker trainers who focus on the positive reinforcement aspect of operant conditioning.

This style of training uses an auditory “marker”—the click of a clicker or the word “Yes!”—to identify for the dog the specific behavior that is going to be rewarded. By “marking” the behavior just before rewarding it with a treat or game, we make it easier for the dog to understand precisely what he is getting rewarded for. Learning accelerates as a result.

Clicker training can be done without actually using a clicker. However, the dog often learns faster when we use this very unique sound to tell him that what he did at that precise moment was what earned him the reward. What we do is click when he does the exact thing we are looking for and then follow the click with a treat, a game of tug, or praise and petting. Once he has learned the behavior, you don’t need to use the clicker all the time — so you don’t need to worry about always having a clicker with you!

Clicker training teaches a dog that his/her actions affect what happens next. Another way of saying this is that the dog learns that every behavior has consequences. Jump on people and they turn away and ignore you. Sit, and you hear the click and then you get rewarded with petting, praise, and a treat!

Clicker training is used to teach dogs basic pet manners such as sit, down, stay, come, leash manners, etc. It is also extremely effective (and fun!) in teaching tricks such as roll over, crawl, bow, hop backwards, ring a bell to go out, and a lot of other fun tricks. It is also helpful in behavior modification programs.

For other clicker training sites, see our Resources page.

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