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Clicker Training for You and Your Pets
By Sherry Woodard
What is clicker training?
Clicker training is a fun and effective way to communicate
with your pets. You can train almost any kind of pet
– including cats, birds, dogs, and horses – to respond to
the clicker. For example, you can teach your dog to sit or
your bird to hop onto a stick using clicker training. The only
thing you need is a clicker, some treats, and an animal
Clicker training is gentler than traditional training methods.
According to Karen Pryor’s clickertraining.com website,
“In traditional training, you tell an animal or person what to
do, make that behavior happen (using force if necessary),
reward good results, and punish mistakes. In clicker training you watch for the behavior
you like, mark the instant it happens with a click, and pay off with a treat. The treat may
be food, a pat, praise, or anything else the learner enjoys. If the learner makes a mistake
all you do is wait and let them try again.”
How did clicker training get started?
Clicker training uses a method called operant conditioning, pioneered by psychologist
B.F. Skinner in the 1960s. Skinner observed that an animal will tend to repeat an
action that has a positive consequence and will avoid an action that has a negative
consequence. If a primary reinforcer (like food) is used, the animal will become
conditioned to repeat the action that produces the food. Using operant conditioning,
Skinner trained rats to push a lever that released food pellets.
The clicker is used as a conditioned reinforcer – a cue that something good is coming.
A form of clicker training (using whistles) was originally used with great success on
dolphins. In the 1990s, clicker training for other animals really took off when trainers
realized how easy and effective it was.
How does clicker training work?
Clicker training works by getting your pet to expect something positive (like a treat) in
return for doing something you ask him or her to