Introducing Clicker Training

Charli Saltzman

I have been attending college since the year of 2011. Now, I am a senior at Nebraska Wesleyan University. I will graduate in December of 2015 with a major in communication studies and a minor in psychology. I’d like to focus your attention on some of my psychology classes.

My first ever psychology class took place at Southeast Community College. In this class, I learned about behavior. One of the main focus of the behavioral learning was focused on dogs. Have you ever heard of Pavlov and his dogs? Well, let me tell you about them. Pavlov noticed that, every time he gave his dogs food, they would salivate. He began to wonder if he could get the dogs to salivate on another cue. He decided on experimenting with a bell. He wanted to find out if the dogs would salivate every time they heard the ringing sound. So, for a while, he would ring the bell and then offer the food immediately after. Soon, once the dogs heard the bell, they would start drooling all over the place because they knew their food was coming.

Instructors at the Seeing Eye and other places used this idea to add to their training techniques. First, they had to teach the dogs that they would get food as soon as they heard the click. How, you might ask, did they accomplish this? It’s simple. They simply clicked and then gave their dog a treat. Soon, the dog began expecting the treat after he or she heard the click. If I were to get my clicker out and click it, I would have to run to my room and grab a treat because Joba wouldn’t leave me alone until he got his treat. Once the dog learns that the click means they will get a treat, you can start using this to train for new behaviors. Before I go into some of these behaviors, I want to explain what the clicker is.

The clicker packet comes with a pouch for treats, a clicker, and a target. The clicker is like a little rectangle box with a big push button on the top of it. You push this to get the two-syllable click sound. You hold the clicker in your hand, placing your thumb on the button. The trick is to click right at the same time as the wanted behavior. I will post a video below so you can see a demonstration.

Let’s talk now about some behaviors you can train your dog to do with the clicker. I will begin with behaviors that I have trained Joba to do. I taught Joba to find the dumpster at my apartment complex. I attached the target to the trash can. The target has either a hook or a magnet with a bell on it so that way I can hear when Joba hits it. I used the magnet for the dumpster targeting. I stood directly in front of the trash can, Joba on my left side. Joba is already familiar with the target and clicker training, so when he hit the bell with his nose, I would click and then treat. Note that, when using the clicker, you don’t have to say anything like good boy or girl because the click is reward enough. After practicing in front of the trash can for about ten times or more, I started what Seeing Eye calls back chaining. Joba and I would walk a very short distance away. I would grab ahold of the harness handle and say: “Joba, forward. Zook”. We use the word “zook” because, for one thing, it’s a short, one-syllable word. Second, it means seek, and it’s better and easier to say this rather than saying “Find the trash can.” When he approaches the dumpster and hits the bell, I click and treat. We practice from the same distance a few times before backing up and trying it from a distance further away. We kept practicing and then backing away until we were working it perfectly all the way from my apartment to the dumpster. Eventually, I took the target off, and now, he knows that, after he relieves himself, that’s where we need to go. Also, I started replacing the word “zook” with the word “trash”. I still am unsure how to help Joba transfer that dumpster information to other dumpsters. Say, for example, I am staying at a hotel. I would like Joba to be able to find the trash can if I say the word “trash”. It hasn’t happened yet, but because I enjoy dog training, I may figure out a way to do that. I know it would be beneficial. I also want to explain my reasons for wanting to switch the word from “zook” to “trash. This is because I can also teach him to find other things which would require me to use the “zook” word. For example, I might want to teach Joba to find the elevator button, the light pole on the street corner, or a specific chair in a room. There are countless things I could teach him with the clicker. Yes, it can be time consuming, but it is a lot of fun.

There are other fun behaviors you can train your dog to do. You can teach your dog to wring a bell when he or she has to go outside. Fun clicker games are available for you and your dog to play on those cold winter days. It is also possible to undo a negative behavior your dog insists on continuing such as barking. Clicker training is complex, but I have provided you with a small introduction to clicker training. Other books and videos are available for you to read or watch if you are interested in learning more. Clicker training can teach fun tricks and serious behavior training.

Below is a video that demonstrates the clicker training process.

 

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