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Last updated: Wed, 3 Sep 2008 20:55:33
It is now Thu, 9 Apr 2020 21:39:15


Training an animal using a clicker

The Click-Sound is a Bridge

A Bridge is an Event-Marker

In the 1940s, Marian Breland and Keller Breland developed "clicker-training," in which they used a "cricket-toy" to make a short, distinctive sound, which they used to signal to an animal that the action the animal was doing at the time the human clicked was the exact action they were wanting the animal to do.

They reinforced - rewarded - the action they had just clicked for, by delivering a primary reward to the animal. A primary reward is one the animal is willing to work for; one that really pleases the animal. Tiny tastes of food are commonly used as primary rewards. The click-sound is given exactly as the action is occurring, and the primary reinforcer is delivered immediately thereafter. The click-sound, then, acts as a "bridge" between the desired action, and the reward, or, reinforcer, that reinforces the action (makes it more likely to occur again another time).

Event Marker

Using a clicker, or, more accurately, the Click! sound iteslf, allows the trainer to mark exactly the wanted action that the trainee-animal is doing, exactly while the animal is doing it.

This type of training greatly removes confusion. Animals think and move very fast. A trainer who teaches an animal that the click sound means it did the action that earns the primary reward, or, the "treat," is "marking the event" that earns the treat.

Using this method, animals can be trained to very precise actions that humans want them to do, as long as the action comes reasonably naturally to the animal.

The click-sound, in this usage, is called a "bridge," precisely because it "bridges" the time between the human-desired, human-clicked action, and the delivery of the primary reinforcer, the treat, to the animal.

So the "Bridge" referred to here has nothing to do with Rainbow Bridge. Rather, it is the sound of the clicker, as it communicates to the animal that the clicked action is exactly what the trainer wants.

Once the trainer has clicked, the primary reinforcer, the treat, needs to be delivered within a very short time; preferably, no longer than about half a second, to allow the animal to make the connection between action and reward, or, reinforcer for the action.

The whole point of using a clicker and rewards is to keep the animal from becoming unduly confused about what you want it to do!

The Clicker: Should I use one?

Bob Bailey's article Pavlov sitting on your shoulder is one I strongly recommend reading, if you should decide to try using a clicker to teach your dog or cat.

And if you do decide to try this, reading Bob's and my article on The Bailey Basics should be of assistance to you. The point, once more, is to minimize possible confusion, therefore, stress, for your animal.

A bit of Bailey-history

Some time after Keller Breland died, Marian married biologist Robert E. Bailey. Together, Bob and Marian built ABE Enterprises, which offered trained animals for entertainment purposes. ABE Enterprises taught many a trainer how to use a clicker for precision-training. The business was very successful, partly because Bob and Marian Bailey and their trainers were always completely meticulous about the scientific principles and the training practices they developed. Their work has firm scientific foundations. They used the principles of operant conditioning. They were so meticulous and careful that they got into some arguments with B.F. Skinner, who worked with operant conditioning. Marian and Keller Breland had both been students of Skinner, but they parted ways with Skinner after a time.

Marian Breland Bailey died in 2001. Bob, grieving terribly, still carried on the work, in the name of Bailey and Bailey. He is only retiring from his famous chicken-training camps about now, in 2008, having just taught his last planned series of lessons to devoted groups of trainers, largely dog-trainers. The Baileys used chickens because they are fast, and reliable responders to the click-sound. The idea is, if you can train a chicken, you won't have a lot of trouble training a dog, or other animals.

You can find more information about Bob and Marian Bailey and their work on my Contacts page. Also, you can find their web site on in the vertical navigation area to the right on the main pages on Coherent Dog.

Karen Pryor's site

Starting in the early 1990s, many years after the clicker was first used this way, more and more dog-trainers began to use the clicker. Interest increased, and now, I'd venture to guess that most dog-trainers today are at least aware of the possibility of training dogs using a clicker and treats. A kind of generic name dog-trainers and some others use for this type of training is, "clicker-training."

A main popularizer of "clicker-training" is Karen Pryor, whose massive web site on clicker training has plenty of leads of its own.

A clicker is wonderful for any precision-training. But our companion animals don't need the kind of precision a clicker is geared to. Companion animals in general can do fine if we substitute a word for the click-sound.

There are other considerations that apply to using a clicker to teach companion animals, and I certainly don't rule out the idea of using a clicker in teaching our companions for certain actions we want.

All training is stressful for the animal. No matter how great the reward, or reinforcer, I prefer to limit such training to a very minimum amount, to keep stress levels down.

It is possible to use a clicker with companion animals, though. The human who uses it does well to hone and refine skills in a very major way, to keep confusion levels for the trainee animal low to non-existent. It takes lots of study and practice to do this well, to minimimize any confusion for the animal.

I studied hard, and used a clicker effectively for about a dozen years, since mid-1995. However, on studying the works of Turid Rugaas, and most particularly, on studying my own dogs, I made a conscious decision to put my clicker down and not to use it again. for a time, anyway. I am now considering returning to using it with great care, in very limited circumstances, because Kwali and Kumbi both really enjoyed working with the clicker.

You never, ever, have to punish your dog

It is never, ever, necessary to punish a dog. There is always something else you can do. As Turid Rugaas says, "You always have a choice."

Dogs are emotional creatures. When you believe you are teaching your dog by punishing it, you are right, but the question then becomes, just what is it that you are teaching your dog that way? I provide essential information about how and why you have No need to punish your dog!, and I hope you will find it helpful. Today's more enlightened dog-trainers use these and related methods quite extensively, with reportedly good results.

I have been using them since 1995, with Kwali as my main teacher and mentor. Kumbi came along to support more of the same.

Using a clicker can help you learn how to avoid punishing your dog, but you do not need to use a clicker to learn that, either!

We human keepers of companion animals can always do as the Baileys and Turid Rugaas did and do. We can observe our dogs with meticulous care, and take our first information from the dogs themselves. Then we can work with them on their own terms.

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