You are at the park with your French bulldog “Simon” one day and you see someone pointing what appears to be a small garage door opener at their golden retriever. Wondering if he’s stepped on a movie set, she watches for a minute to see what’s going on. The golden retriever sits down, a loud click is heard, and a treat is given. And you’re left wondering what just happened.
The principles behind clicker training were first introduced to the world in 1910 by Col. Konrad Most in his book Training Dogs – A Manual. Originally published in German, it was not until 1954 that it was translated into English. The first dog trainer to use a clicker was Keller Breland, who introduced the concept to the marine animal world in the 1950s. Moving through history, in 1984 Karen Pryor wrote Don’t Shoot the Dog, which it attracted the attention of Gary Wilkes, who was the first trainer since Breland to make extensive use of clicker training. Thanks to the internet, clicker training has quickly spread throughout the world of dog training and has become increasingly popular.
The concept behind clicker training is to associate the ‘click’ sound with the behavior you want your dog to have. Summary: One, the puppy does something you want it to do, two, ‘click’ the clicker, and three, give it a treat. The goal is to press the clicker at the exact moment Simon is performing the desired behavior. Your pup then associates the click with what he has done correctly and will receive a treat. There’s a difference of opinion on how to make Simon, for example, sit in the first place. A view is to attach a verbal command; the other is to lure Simon into sitting down, or wait until Simon gets lonely and then mark him with a click and a treat.
Proponents of clicker training claim that it significantly reduces training time and that the click is pleasant for dogs. It takes less time to ‘click’ than to say ‘good dog’ and the click gives the dog instant feedback so there’s no question as to what behavior you’re praising him for. Once Simon has made the association in his mind that the ‘click’ means he has done something right, he can mark almost any behaviour. In this method, his only tools are the clicker and the treats; it is entirely positive reinforcement.
Critics of clicker training claim that any animal trained with a clicker will not perform without one. This requires the owner to have a clicker with him or her at all times, or risk Simon not hearing when the clicker is left at home. It could present a security issue, as other people without a remote cannot give Simon basic commands. If you don’t click the clicker at exactly the right time, you could have taught Simon to half sit, or almost slow down. While accuracy is a benefit because it’s like taking a snapshot of behavior, it also provides a smaller window for errors.
Clicker training is very popular right now, and it may continue to be, or it may go dormant again. Whether it’s training with a clicker, or verbal commands, or ‘reward words’ to indicate a desired behavior in lieu of a clicker, this is all part of positive reinforcement training, which Simon is sure to appreciate. All forms of training still require patience and consistency. And remember that just as we have days off, Simon can also have days off. Do not give up; Even if your canine friend is ready to drive you through the walls, you can train him successfully.