“Clicker Training” without a Clicker…and without Treats?

How can this be possible?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Clicker training establishes a rock-solid line of communication based on simple cause and effect. The clicker – a small mechanical device - makes a sound that “marks” a behavior (the cause) and tells the animal precisely what he’s about to be “paid” for. The reward (the effect) that quickly follows strengthens the behavior, making the animal want to repeat it to get another click and reward.

Our live-in-the-moment dogs need instant feedback in order to learn the association between a behavior and its consequence and the clicker is the perfect tool. It’s an ideal approach not only for training new things, but excellent for polishing old skills, teaching positive handling (even toenail clipping) and more. It can be used for behavior modification, to help a fearful or anxious animal feel safer…  there are far too many applications to list here. The result is a happy, cooperative, trusting animal who understands and is engaged in a simple learning game that makes anything possible.

Clicker training without a clicker and treats?

A click is just a sound that stands out from any other sound. When I don’t have a clicker – or cannot spare the necessary hand to operate one – I say “pip!” the instant the desired behavior happens, then offer a reward. The reward is anything the animal values at that moment. Treats can be ideal because they tend to be high value and facilitate many repetitions, but sometimes they aren’t the right tool. For the fetchaholic dog, for example, I might choose to “pip” a sit and then toss the ball. With a few repetitions of this pattern, the dog will automatically offer a sit in order for the ball to be thrown – much like a child who learns that saying “please” is the only way he might get what he wants.

The Right Currency

The reward must be of value. Just as we are unlikely to accept a challenging job that pays a penny a week, neither will our dogs be interested in doing something for nothing or for something they don’t value.

Clicker training is cause and effect, pure and simple. No species, including humans, is immune to the process. Zoo animals, horses, rats, goats, cockroaches and even goldfish can all be clicker trained.

Clicker training converts cause and effect into highly efficient training, but it requires good observation, timing and highly coveted rewards. When I hear someone say, “clicker training didn’t work,” I know something was wrong in the process. The "operator" has failed in one of the 3 areas mentioned above. It is not the learner's fault.

Try a simple clicker game: targeting. Invitingly offer an empty hand for your animal to touch – the moment he touches it, say “pip!” and then reward him. Repeat several times and pretty soon he will enthusiastically touch your hand. The applications for this basic behavior are numerous!

I welcome you to visit my Vimeo Channel to see some examples of clicker training.