Thirty years ago, nobody was clicker training their dogs, even though marine mammal trainer Karen Pryor had already written a book called Don’t Shoot the Dog. I remember reading it back in the 80s when
my husband and I were raising and training llamas. I was thrilled by the concepts, but I didn’t start applying them until much later.
According to Pryor, it wasn’t until 1992 that things got going in the dog world. She and others gave a workshop on clicker training to some 250 dog trainers. She commented in 1997, “Five years ago, I could not have named for you a single clicker trainer in the dog owning community. Not one. Now, I am personally aware of over ten thousand adherents to clicker training.”
Of course by now, many years after that comment, the number of people using clickers with dogs is far, far larger. Thanks to the numerous clicker trainers, books (many of them published by Pryor’s own company), websites, and ClickerExpos she puts on, the number must be in the hundreds of thousands if it hasn’t crossed a million yet.
She described some of the ways that clicker training is different from the traditional methods of dog training. “First, although we often use food as a primary reinforcer, we use no deprivation… Second, we use no punishment… Third, the sessions are very brief, perhaps just a few minutes: no drill, no long repetitions… Also, we incorporate a LOT of variety.”
She comments that while the sound of the clicker does tell the dog exactly what he did right, it also tells you when you make the click at the right time: if you are using your voice, you can’t really tell if you are a bit late. But with the clicker, you can tell right away and so you can learn from the clicker yourself. She adds that this “vital feedback” is in her view the key “to the rapid spread of clicker training.”
She develops this idea: “For a technology to spread fast, it has to have these characteristics: It must be easy. It must have visible benefits to the user. It must be something that can be learned in small increments. (I would add that there must be instant results that are reinforcing to the learner.) Clicker training fits the bill.”
For Karen Pryor’s full 1997 speech, from which I have excerpted a few points, see her website at: http://www.clickertraining.com/node/153 — she reflects on the meaning of the expansion of clicker training and tells a couple of other interesting stories. I loved the one about the Papillon who went around stealing clickers. That’s on the second page of the article. If you go to that site, do look around… it’s a treasure of information.