…By dwelling on the negative, and pointing out what clicker training is not. Clicker trainers tend to focus not only on positive training with animals, but also on positive-oriented language in their dealings with clients, friends, family and peers. Rarely will you hear the word “no” or any of its derivatives in training or even everyday conversation. We’d much rather take a negatively-skewed comment and turn it into an opportunity to highlight the positive, and then strive for improvement.
So I’ll summarize all the negativity very quickly… In clicker training:
- A click is not intended to serve as a punishment in of itself.
- A click is not intended as a warning that punishment is coming.
- A click is not intended to serve as a cue to a behavior.
Recently, I’ve been thrilled to hear about other practical applications for clicker training, until I heard about how it was actually being applied.
Similarly, I found myself in a conversation with an animal professional who shared a story about her client, who was proud of the effect that “clicker training” had on his mouthy dog. When the professional had asked if the client had heard of clicker training, he said, “Oh sure, I use a clicker. I click it right before I hit the button on the shock collar remote.”
Oh no… Well, IF there is a bright side to this conversation, the man is trying to teach his dog that it has a choice whether or not to be shocked (a la the “warning tone” on an underground electronic fence). Personally, I would rather a dog be warned than just issued random jolts of electricity, if ever given the option.
USING THE CLICKER AS THE CUE:
A couple different scenarios have also shed light on clickers being used as the cue for a behavior. For example, a person clicks the clicker, dog stops pulling on the lead. Or, a person clicks the clicker, and dog automatically “stacks” its posture for the show ring.
Which leads us to the best part… What IS the click in clicker training? Simply put, the click is a signal that alerts your dog to the moment it demonstrated the correct behavior, and is a promise that a reward (usually food) is coming.
In a way, this article in itself is a lesson about clicker training, isn’t it? Instead of spending several paragraphs explaining what clicker training IS NOT, wouldn’t you rather have learned what it IS up-front instead? And wouldn’t that have been a lot quicker? Of course! Which is why clicker trainers love to teach and reward learners for the correct behavior (what to do), instead of punishing for the innumerable behaviors that might be incorrect (what not to do). It’s to the point, and so much faster!
And as for the clicker itself… It’s important to remember that the clicker was originally invented as a fun child’s noisemaker in the 1950s. Then along came those silly animal trainers and teachers, like Karen Pryor, Gary Wilkes, Theresa McKeon and Joan Orr, who took those toys and added some structured meaning to that unique “click” for animals and people alike (as in TAGTeach – Teaching with Acoustical Guidance).