During clicker training, the animal is given a signal that it has behaved correctly. The most commonly used signal is a «click» sound, generated by pressing a small handheld device called a «clicker». One click makes it clear to the animal that it has behaved correctly.
This clear and unambiguous form of communication is an effective, safe and humane way to train an animal to do whatever behavior it is physically and mentally capable of. It can be used in many areas of animal training: from small obedience tests to learning tricks and tricks to working on problem behavior.
Clicker training was originally used by its founder, American animal trainer Karen Pyor, in her work with dolphins. Clicker training can and has been used successfully on animals of all sizes and species, domestic or wild, young or old: dogs, cats, birds, leopards, rats, rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs, fish and many more.
The training method developed by the American animal trainer Karen Pryor is based on scientific findings from behavioral research. Clicker training first uses classic conditioning: the click is followed by the feed. After several repetitions, the animal associates the click with something pleasant.
Operant conditioning sets in as soon as the animal later repeats targeted actions in order to receive a click or, better, the associated reward.
The great advantage of operant conditioning can already be seen: the animal does not simply react but acts, becomes active, and consciously implements action steps. Since clicker training uses only positive reinforcement and does not punish mistakes, the animal becomes an active, joyful partner in the training.
The clicker represents a unique and unambiguous signal. It is always the same in terms of its acoustics, its sound and its meaning. With the help of this unmistakable signal, the trainer can precisely mark the behavior for which the animal can expect a reward. The click builds bridges or links behavior and reward, which is why it is also called a “bridge signal”.
The human voice adapts to emotions. Depending on the mood of the trainer, even a word of praise can sound like a punishment. The sound of the clicker never varies. People also tend to use too many words. It becomes difficult for the animal to crystallize the word from the multitude of words that signals its correct behavior. The click occurs only once.
In order for the animal to be able to do anything with the clicker at all, it must first understand a connection between the click and the positive reinforcement – the treat. In addition, it receives a treat after each click during preparation. If this process is repeated a few times, the animal will associate something positive with the marking signal.
Later, the moment the animal shows the behavior the trainer wants, the trainer will click and give the reward: a dog sits, the click occurs at the same time, and immediately after that the reward. A click is like capturing a photograph of a behavior that the trainer wants to solidify or reinforce. After the «picture has been taken», it is solidified by means of a reward.
Quickly, sometimes after just two or three clicks, the animal will perceive the connection between the signal and the reward. Since it wants to repeat this pleasant experience, it will repeat the successful action.