There are multiple ways to communicate with your dog. You can use treat luring, positive reinforcement, shaping with clickers/markers, and/or body language. This week, I will be discussing how clicker/marker reinforcement can be used to effectively communicate. You may not have known it, but you have probably experienced clicker reinforcement in your daily life. When you see a cop in your rearview mirror, you automatically slow down. This is similar to clicker reinforcement. Seeing the cop was your signal, and your behavior was to slow down.
Clicker training is a method of positive reinforcement and is a variation of Pavlovian Training. To begin conditioning, you click then treat to create an associate between the “click” and the reward. Then, you wait for them to offer up the behavior you want on their own, then click and reinforce with a treat. The dog learns to associate the “click” as something good that they will be rewarded for. I had been using this type of communication with Odin, however instead of using a clicker, I had been using the verbal marker “Yes!” as my “click” and would reward with a treat after responding with “yes”. This week I tried switching to the clicker and was impressed with the results. The clicker ensures that it is the same pitch/sound the dog is associating with doing a good job. When using a verbal marker, it is easy for the dog to confuse different fluctuations in pitches and sound of the verbal marker. The “yes” I use sounds very different from the “yes” my husband uses. When using a clicker for training, the device makes the same click sound regardless of who clicks it.
This week in class, we were working on using clicker training to train Odin to sharpen his own nails on a large emery board. As soon as Odin would look at the board, I would “click” then treat. As soon as he put one or two feet on the board, I would click and treat. Eventually, once he starts to move his front paws on the board I will click then treat. This will continue until he performs the full desired behavior of sharpening his own nails. For shaping, you wait for them to offer up the behavior on their own, and then click. The click communicates the behavior we want him to perform.
Clicker training and verbal markers both work well for effective communication. The dog will set about to perform the behavior that will make the trainer “click” or mark their behavior knowing that it will be followed by a treat. The behavior that you reward will be strengthened and the likelihood of the dog performing the behavior will increase. You are engaging with them in a conversation about how they can make rewards happen. Clicker/marker training is an effective way to communicate which behaviors you want them to repeat as both these techniques help to create a meaningful dialogue between you and your dog.
Please comment your personal stories below on how you have used clicker training effectively as a form of communication! I love hearing about others training successes and remember to subscribe to my blog!