Is Clicker Training the Most Effective Way to Train Dogs?


I have a small dog that is with me almost 24/7. She is the sweetest dog I have ever known, but she does have some minor behavioural issues that I would like to train her out of, so I looked around for the best method of training her to be a better dog. One of the things I looked at was using a clicker to train her, so this brought up the question of whether this is the best method to use, or not. I found an interesting article that covers this very subject. This is what is discussed in the beginning, by way of explanation:

For those of you who are not all that familiar with clicker training it really is quite simple. It depends upon a little plastic toy that makes a clicking sound. The dog learns that whenever he hears that sound a treat is coming immediately after. So the dog sets about trying to produce behaviors which cause the trainer to sound that click knowing that it will be followed by a reward. In so doing the dog learns which behavior is wanted. Thus the training sequence is quite simple: get the behavior; mark that behavior (with a click); reward the behavior. The more that the behavior is repeated and rewarded the stronger that behavior becomes.

Marker training is exactly the same as clicker training, the only difference is that instead of using the clicker as a reward signal you use some other signal. It might be a voice signal, such as “Yes” or “Good dog”. When the basic concept behind this form of training was introduced to the general public by psychologist B. F. Skinner in a 1951 Scientific American article, he chose a clicking sound simply because it appeared to be more precise and was easily heard. However according to Skinner himself the marker doesn’t even have to be a sound but could be some sort of visual signal such as a light flash or a hand movement.

The article goes into more detail, with some very interesting results. The article also states:

Recently a team of researchers headed by Cinzia Chiandetti of the University of Trieste decided to see if clicker training was the most effective way to teach dogs. They used a sample of 51 pet dogs, each of which was to be trained on a novel task and then also tested to see how well they generalized their learning (that is how they applied their learning to new situations which were new but somewhat similar). A group of 17 dogs were trained using a clicker and 17 were trained using a verbal reward marker, namely the word “Bravo”. When these investigators designed the study they thought that a third group of 17 dogs would be trained using only a reward and no marker, but they later recognized that the dogs probably were responding to a visual signal, namely the bowing of the trainer when she moved forward and bent over to deliver the reward to the dog. Regardless of the marker used all of the dogs were highly motivated because the reward was either a piece of sausage or cheese, depending on their preference.

Training used a method called “shaping” or “successive approximations” in which the dog is rewarded for behaviors which get closer and closer to what they finally have to learn to do. The task of they were learning was to open a plastic breadbox by pushing the handle up with their nose or muzzle. The dogs had up to three training sessions a day until they were able to open the breadbox eight out of 10 times in a row.

This is a very interesting story and well worth the read. There is quite a bit more to the story than is covered in this blog post. To read the full story, click here:



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