Thursday, January 8, 2009

Arguments Against “Clicker Training”

Unfortunately, most clicker trainers teach their students to treat their dog each and every time a behavior occurs, or they don’t properly outline how to reinforce intermittently, thus moving away from reinforcing each occurrence. This is the biggest argument against clicker training: people don’t want a dog dependent on receiving treats in order to be obedient. Tied in with that argument is a trainer who doesn’t want to "carry treats around" all the time. They’ll argue, “why does the dog needs a treat every time?”

When trainers use operant conditioning – in which clicker training is based – they not only wean their dogs off of “treats” by using intermittent reinforcement, they also substitute other forms of reinforcers. This means you don’t have to – and actually shouldn’t – carry treats or toys with you wherever you and your dog go.

Another argument against clicker training: the dog’s behavior is dependent on the presence – or absence – of treats. While it’s hard to use much other than dog treats in an actual dog class setting, many clicker trainers fail to teach their students the many types of positive reinforcers, and how to use these other forms of motivation to modify dog behavior outside of the classroom. Also, done correctly, operant conditioning does the opposite of training the dog to only work when "treats" are present!

For example, simply telling your dog “Good dog!” can be reinforcement. Whether or not it's a strong enough reinforcement for your dog depends on if you've correctly conditioned the dog. Also, behaviors themselves can be reinforcing. According to Premack’s Principle, a dog will perform a less desirable behavior in order to be able to perform the more desirable behavior. The dog who is excited to enter the dog park, for instance, must sit calmly and look her trainer in the eyes in order to be able to advance into the park. Although the dog is extremely motivated to play with other dogs, she knows she must offer the obedient behavior (sitting with attention) in order to “earn” the “treat” of entering the dog park.

This is not to say that a trainer shouldn’t use clicker training! Rather, when researching trainers and dog classes to begin on your positive reinforcement journey, be sure to do your homework and find a reputable establishment which utilizes operant conditioning methods correctly. This means you probably should not attend the PetCo/PetSmart dog classes, since the majority of the time these trainers don’t utilize clicker training methods properly.

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