Clicker training has become the New Age buzz word amongst the humanist-oriented dog training bunch and the book and pet product promoters eager to capitalize on this latest trend.
Based on theories of operant conditioning first expounded by psychologist B.F. Skinner, and later popularized by dolphin trainer Karen Pryor in books such as Don’t Shoot The Dog, clicker training involves attaching a positive, motivator (such as food) to an event marker (such as a clicking sound made by a child’s toy known as a ‘cricket’) in order to improve timing and allow the dog to more easily understand which behavior he did correctly.
The problem I have with clicker training is not inherent to the use of a small child’s toy to assist in training a dog, (which, it could be argued, strays away from the natural way dog’s communicate with each other), but rather in the promotion and word of mouth associated with this behavioral approach which closely resembles the ramblings of a college boy newly converted to Evangelism.
Furthermore, clicker training has quickly evolved into the poster child of those who view traditional dog training as something closer to torture for the dog, rather than as a method of training new behaviors. The weak point of most clicker trainers’ arguments is in the assumption that using compulsion (giving a dog a correction) is the same as a punishment and/or force. In reality, a well timed correction, with proper motivation (but not too much motivation) is merely a method of telling the dog he did something wrong.
Imagine trying to learn how to drive with an instructor who only told you when you were doing something right, but refused to tell you when you were doing something wrong. Sure, you might eventually learn how to drive (if you didn’t kill yourself first), but the fastest and easiest method of learning is to know when you are doing something right as well as when you are doing something wrong.
I feel there is a definite place for clicker training in a trainer’s bag of tricks… however, it should not be to the exclusion of every other trick in the trainer’s bag, especially when those tricks may work faster in certain circumstances.