“Clicking is like making a bargain,” clicker trainer Karen Pryor has said. It’s a language that crosses the barriers between species. Clicker training is based on well-researched principles of how animals learn, and it puts the focus on what the dog is doing correctly. This will explore these points.
What did Karen Pryor mean when she said that clicking is like making a bargain? Once your dog understands that clicking is followed by a reward (a realization that comes very quickly to most animals), then you can play your own version of “Let’s make a deal” with him. Perhaps you want the dog to sit more reliably. The dog sits, you click your clicker (described a little further on) and give a reward. Another time, the dog sits, another time you reward. Pretty soon you may have a dog (like mine) who is following you around, sitting at every opportunity, whether or not you have clicked!
As this example shows, clickers provide a language that dogs and humans can share. If you have ever spent time in a country where you spoke little or none of the language, you know how frustrating it can be. With the common language of the clicker, you can communicate to the dog more fully than ever before just what it is you want.
Clicker training based on scientific principles of how humans, dogs, dolphins, and other species learn. The behaviors that you click and reward for are more likely to happen again. Without going into the science of operant conditioning here, I’ll just say that many, many experiments have been done to explore how this works. For us, the good news is that it does work and that clicker training principles can enhance our relationship with our dogs and make our training faster and easier.
Here is Karen Pryor’s clicker training kit to get started: