Saturday, September 25, 2010

Charging the Clicker

An integral part of operant conditioning - also known as clicker training to the average dog owner - is the marker which tells the dog she's performed the desired behavior. While technically "any" sound can be made to mark behavior (such as a whistle or even a word, such as "Good!"), studies have shown that animals trained with a clicker as the marker learn quicker.

Why is that, you might ask? The reason is simple - the clicker makes only one sound, without variance in pitch, tone, loudness, etc. Therefore the dog knows that exact sound means he's offered the desired behavior. Before beginning any type of clicker training, first your dog must of course know the meaning of the clicker. To start him off, it's merely a matter of equating the sound of the click with some sort of "paycheck," the easiest being treats.

(While you can use any of your dog's reinforcers for training, the easiest to use is small, chewy treats. This is only because it takes the dog a very small amount of time to eat the treat. If you're using toys or play with a dog new to clicker training, it might take her longer to understand the exact correlation of desired behavior to paycheck.)

Charging the clicker is easy: simply get your dog into a low-stimulus environment (somewhere inside is ideal) and begin by clicking and treating. It's best to click, pause, then treat (think of a waltz tempo) since animals can only process one stimulus at a time. I.e., if you click and treat simultaneously, your dog might not be listening to the clicker and it'll take longer to pair the 2 together.

Here's a quick example of how to charge the clicker:


Once you've primed the clicker and your dog understands that click = treat, you can begin rewarding your dog for performing desired behaviors. Remember to only focus on one behavior at a time - try "sit," then end that session (and maybe even move to a new location) before starting on "down," etc.

Now you can teach your dog just about anything!

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