Why We Use Clicker Training at C.A.R.E.

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If you’ve ever spent any time at our shelter, odds are you’ve heard a mechanical click sound come from one of our trainers while they’re working with a dog or cat (and maybe occasionally an iguana). Curious about why we utilize clickers while training? Well then, read on for a brief overview of what makes clicker training work.

The “clicker” in clicker training refers to a mechanical device that makes a click sound when you depress a button. We use this device as an event marker to let the animal know that a reward is imminent. Some trainers use a marker word such as “yes.” Trainers working with deaf animals might use a keychain light or a thumbs up as a marker. They key is developing a consistent signal that the animal recognizes as preceding the delivery of a reward. The science behind building this connection has been established ever since Pavlov’s dogs started salivating at the sound of a bell (this is called classical conditioning).

The use of this marker allows us to communicate clearly with the animal that we’re training, and provides the animal with much needed feedback. To an animal that has become familiar with clicker training, hearing a click lets them know that they did something right. The lack of a click when they were expecting one lets them know that they need to try something different. Most animals, just like people, enjoy using their brain to solve puzzles. It’s a heartwarming sight to witness an animal that is enthusiastic about training and clearly enjoying itself. This is what we call a win-win. The animal is getting its share of entertainment and enrichment, while also learning valuable skills that will help it thrive in its new home.

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Some may wonder why we don’t use some of the more traditional training techniques that many pet owners are familiar with. The simple answer is that clicker training is more effective and more humane than traditional methods. Personally, I also think it’s a whole lot of fun! Having the ability to communicate with an animal and tell them exactly when they did something correct can make training much easier. Clicker training is also more forgiving of your mistakes. If a trainer punishes an animal at the wrong time, it is likely to create behavioral issues that are worse than the ones you are trying to modify. If a trainer clicks and treats at the wrong time, all that happens is the animal gets an extra treat and then continues with training.

In addition to making training easier, clicker training opens up a whole world of creativity for animals, gives them the gift of choice, and allows them some control over their environment. Most pet animals do not get the opportunity to make decisions on their own all that often. By utilizing the concept of operant conditioning (look up B.F. Skinner if you’re interested in the science), we teach animals that their behavior can control their environment.

 

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