What is clicker training? There are a lot of different ways to clicker train and many definitions of the term. On this page, I am going to explain my views on training and what I mean when I say that I clicker train.
My training can be described in two major points:
All training is based on rewards. The dog works with me to earn rewards, not to avoid aversives. Rewards can be anything that the dog enjoys and is willing to work for. I often use toys and food when training, but in real life – anything can be a reward. Sniffing on the ground, greeting other dogs, getting out of the door, going for a swim or getting on the bed.
The most important reason for doing this is that i believe that the dog should have fun working with me. He never asked me to do the silly tricks we call obedience or agility. It is my job to make sure that my dog wants to work with me. Fortunatly, reward based training is also extremely effective and I don’t believe that I would get any better results if I forced my dog to do anything. Obedience and agility on top level requires speed and precise behaviors. I believe that it is easier to get that with rewards.
Training is based on the dog offering behavior. I capture or shape the behavior I want and the dog is an active part in training. I very rarely use promts or lures to get behavior. Getting the dog to offer behavior is simply a matter of observing the dog and reinforcing any small step towards the goal. You can read more about how to get your dog started with shaping in this blog post.
Shaping has many advantages to luring. It has much more potential when it comes to more complex behaviors that are hard or impossible to lure. It makes the dog the active part in training and makes training for competitions easier. You get much faster feedback from the dog when he is offering behaviors. If there isn’t enough value, he won’t do it.
You can read more on why we like to use shaping in blog posts about shaping.
I want to be able to get the dog to offer the behavior even after I have added the cue. I work a lot on stimulus control, but I don’t use cues unless I have to. This keeps the dog active, asking me to work with him instead of the other way around.
What about the clicker? I haven’t included the use of a clicker in my definition of clicker training, because I don’t always use it. I use a clicker when I need to give the dog precise information when capturing or shaping behaviors. The clicker is a great tool and I wouldn’t want to do without it, but I don’t use it all the time.