One of the hallmarks of our program that stands out as somewhat unique in the Cambridge area is that we strongly recommend (although don't require) the use of clickers in our classes. So much so that we hand them out to every client that walks in the door. Why do we do that?
1. The dogs learn faster.
There's evidence out there that using a specific marker, especially something as unique as a click, that is always followed by a treat helps dogs learn which behaviors are being asked for more quickly. (reference)
2. It's accurate.
We're all learning all the time to be better trainers and part of that is being able to communicate effectively with our dogs. When we can accurately pinpoint the behavior that is being reinforced, the training is easier and the behaviors are cleaner.
3. It's fun!
The clarity of communication between the dog and the owner and the ability to view mishaps in training as errors in communication as opposed to a "problem with the dog" mean that people tend to have fun! Class is supportive and we enjoy problem solving with you when you or your dog hit a road block.
4. You can train almost anything.
Think of a cute trick or a useful skill (like something that a service dog could do)- chances are it can be trained using a clicker. We can use this neat little device to pinpoint such tiny changes in behavior that we can shape new behaviors relatively rapidly by playing a type of "am I getting warmer?" type of game with the dogs.
Unchi Plays Dead (cool trick!)
So why doesn't everyone use a clicker?
Some people simply don't like having to carry a clicker when training and prefer to use a word like "yes". While this can be very effective, it doesn't work quite in the same way, and carries some drawbacks. The dog will not have the same reinforcement history with one person's "yes" as another person's- so if there are multiple family members training, some will get better behaviors than others if they do more training. It's also hard to keep emotions out of verbal cues- that edge of frustration, delight, or anxiety can creep into the "yes" and change it's value.
I often get questions from new dog owners along the lines of "but won't I always have to use a clicker?"- and the answer is "no". I rarely pull out my clicker to train my own dogs (they wish I would more often!), because I no longer need the accuracy in communication- they know the behaviors that I ask of them very well and simply maintaining them with other reinforcement is enough. Sometimes, people also worry that if they don't have their clicker on them, their dog won't respond. This is also not true. Because the click always comes after the behavior, it doesn't matter if you leave your clicker at home- your dog should still respond, just make sure to reinforce in other ways.
When it comes down to it- there are many ways to effectively reinforce and train your dog, but at Dog Willing I like to see happy owners and dogs- this is achieved best through clicker training, so that's what we use!
If you would like to learn more about this method, check out www.clickertraining.com