How do Clicker Trainers ask for Behaviours?
Clicker trainers differ from traditional trainers in that they wait until the behavior is well understood by the animal before using a command or “cue.”A cue is the name of a behavior, such as “sit,” or a hand movement or other clear signal. Until the animal knows what the behavior is, any name for it would be meaningless.
When the animal has been clicked several times for a behavior, and then confidently repeats the behavior, showing that it knows exactly what earns it a click and a reward, it is ready to learn the name of the behavior. Clicker trainers call this “introducing the cue.”
To teach the animal the name of the behavior, or the cue, the trainer says or signals the cue before the animal repeats the behavior. After several repetitions, the trainer begins to click and reward when the animal does the behavior, but only after the cue is given. No click is given if the animal does the behavior without being given the cue first. The animal quickly learns to listen or watch for its cue, which tells it: If you do this behavior now, you will get a click and earn a reward.
What if the animal does not obey the cue?
Clicker trained animals want to perform behaviors for which they have been rewarded in the past. If they understand the meaning of the cue and desire the reward, they will perform the behavior.
If they do not perform the behavior, clicker trainers do not assume that the animal is “disobeying.” Instead the trainer asks the following questions:
After answering those questions, the clicker trainer revises the training process to be sure that the animal knows the meaning of the cue in all environments, regardless of distractions, and feels rewarded for the behavior.
Why don't Clicker Trainers use punishments as well as rewards?
A consequence of any behavior can be unpleasant as well as pleasant. So why shouldn’t punishments follow unwanted behaviors, just as rewards follow wanted behaviors?
Research tells us that punishment may decrease the frequency of an unwanted behavior, but usually results in producing another unwanted behavior. The results of punishment as a training method are difficult to predict and to control.
In addition, punishment is not usually identified with an event marker. It almost always comes after the event and is rarely clearly connected with a specific behavior. In the animal’s perception, punishment is a random, meaningless event. It is, therefore, less effective than the combined use of an event marker and positive reinforcement in changing behavior.
Clicker trainers also feel that their relationships with their animals are stronger and more rewarding when they focus on the positive rather than the negative. Like the difference between an animal behaving with intention rather than by habit, the difference in attitude and enthusiasm between an animal that works to earn rewards rather than to avoid punishment is vast.
How can Clicker Training be used to get rid of Behaviours?
Clicker trainers allow unwanted behaviors to disappear through lack of reinforcement. If a behavior is not rewarding to the animal, eventually it will disappear. If an unwanted behavior persists, clicker trainers study the behavior to understand why it is reinforcing to the animal. Sometimes the behavior reinforces itself: a barking dog is less bored than a quiet dog. The barking is its own reward. The clicker trainer provides this dog with an alternate wanted behavior to replace the unwanted behavior. The bored dog may simply need more activity, or perhaps quiet resting for longer and longer periods can become a rewarded behavior. Then the clicker trainer would teach the dog a cue for “silence.”
Do Clickers and Treats need to be used for every Behaviour, forever?
No. Once a behavior is learned and on cue, there’s usually no need to click, as the animal understands the behavior.Clicker trainers can maintain the behavior by replacing specially good treats with occasional and less intensive rewards including a pat or praise. Learned cues and behaviours are also maintained by real-life rewards: for example sitting quietly at the door is rewarded by opening the door so that the dog can have a walk. Clicker trainers then save clicks and treats for the next new thing they want to train.
Can Clicker Training be used for any animal?
Yes. First widely used by dolphin trainers who needed a way to teach behavior without using physical force, operant conditioning (the scientific term for clicker training) can be and has been successfully employed with animals of all sizes and species, both domesticated and wild, young and old; all breeds of dogs and puppies, cats, birds, leopards, rats, rabbits, chinchillas, fish, and more.
Clicker trainers who learn the underlying principles have at their disposal a powerful set of tools that enable them to analyze behaviors, modify existing methods for individual animals, and create new methods where none previously existed. This flexibility allows the tools of clicker training to be re-invented in new forms that work in a range of situations, and for an infinite variety of animals.
The same principles have also been applied to training for athletes, dancers, skaters, and other people. Called “TAGteach,” this form of training uses a click as a marker signal to teach precise physical motions quickly, accurately, and positively.
Is Clicker Training a method or a philosophy?
Sometimes people are surprised by the enthusiasm and dedication clicker trainers have for their method. These trainers may have first started learning to click as a way of training their dog, but soon realized that the fundamental principles of clicker training could be applied to other areas of their lives. Changing one’s focus from the negative to the positive can certainly be a life-changing event.
With Permission from Karen Pryor at http://www.clickertraining.com
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