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I got to write an essay on Clicker Training for school and I was so excited! I thought I'd share it with everyone. BTW I am not a great writer, but my teacher liked it.

Clicker Training

Clicker Training, the fascinating, completely positive method for training animals is on the spread. Using a small plastic noisemaker called a clicker, and some treats your animal loves, as well as some know how you can train your animal to do almost anything. Some animals that are popular to clicker train are dogs, horses, cats, and many types of Zoo animals including dolphins, whales, elephants, camels and many others.

For the sake of this paper we’ll use dogs for an example, as those are what I train using a clicker. To start with we need to understand how dogs work, and what the basis of Clicker Training is. Clicker Training uses Operant and Classical Conditioning. We’ll start with Classical Conditioning first, have you ever heard of Pavlov’s dogs? Well he used Classical Conditioning to get them to salivate when he rang a bell. He gauged the dog’s responses to food when he presented it to them, and then began to ring the bell before feeding them, after a while the dogs would salivate when they heard the bell alone. The clicker serves as the bell in our case, so why do we use it?

The clicker serves as a bridge, because it bridges the time between when the animal does the behavior and when you give the reinforcement (the food). Why is this important? It makes it so we can reinforce the smallest behaviors, my Miniature Aussie will turn her head to the left and gaze at me out of the corner of her eye, I taught this by clicker her ear twitching towards the left, then her nose in the smallest increments, eventually she was tossing her head to the left, nose in the air. The clicker is much faster and more precise than just treating the dog, it speeds up the learning process tenfold.

Operant Conditioning plays off the fact that reinforcement builds on a behavior. Giving your dog a treat when he sits reinforces the sit, which makes it more likely that he will offer sitting. While spraying your dog with a water gun when he does something bad will decrease his likely hood of doing that behavior. Operant Conditioning has four stages, and I’ll explain it as simply as I can. Positive reinforcement is giving your dog a treat for doing something you like, in our case clicking and treating him. Positive Punishment is having something the dog likes taken away, in the case of a jumping dog you turn your back to them and ignore them till they calm down before you give them attention, which reinforces the correct behavior. Negative Punishment is like using a leash correction on a prong collar to correct the dog when he pulls on his leash, they dislike it, and so the dog will work to avoid it. Negative reinforcement is a very common thing to see, people accidently reinforcing something bad the dog is doing, dogs don’t care if attention is negative or positive, it’s still attention. This all sounds very confusing I’m sure so but it’s still important.

Clicker Trainers use both of these things to build up their method, the Classical Conditioning provides the basic click and treat idea. We use the bridge to gap the time it takes us to reinforce a behavior, no matter how small the behavior is. The Operant Conditioning is more on belief and foundations; we prefer to use Positive Reinforcement and Positive Punishment, as they are gentler and easier for the dog to understand.

Some of the other key things Clicker Trainers use is something called shaping, it’s a very hands off method of teaching a dog. Say you want the dog to spin in a circle to the left, so you’d start out with a twitch of the ear or head to the left, whatever movement the dog is offering. When the dog offers moving their ear or head often you’d up your criteria to say a more noticeable movement of the ear, or if you’d only been clicking their ear moving towards the left, hold off on the click and wait, see if they’ll offer moving their head to the left. You build up and build up from that, one step to the left, another or another until they make a full circle. You can shape a dog to do pretty much anything.

Some of my favorite things about Clicker Training are the way my two dogs just throw behaviors at me when I sit down with a clicker and treats. Sydney, my Aussie will start woofing at me, throwing downs, sits, waving both paws, spinning in circles. One of the others is what I call the ‘light bulb’ moment in Shaping, when the dog has suddenly realized what you’re clicking for. Kali my 10 month old pup was recently shaped to raise her right paw, and at first I’d click when she shifted her paw, then she just got this like…’AHA! I know what you want mom!’ look on her face and she was flailing her leg around, pawing me, holding it up, whatever she could do with it. I love the excited look they get, they have genuine fun when we have a training session. Every clicker dog I’ve ever seen has been enthusiastic, and really responsive to their owners. Clicker training is not only fun for the dog, I find myself laughing on a daily basis with my dogs, the things they think of to offer when I’ve got a clicker in my hand still amaze me.
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