Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs by Karen Pryor

THE starter book on clicker training your dog by the person who basically invented clicker training for dogs.


If you’re going to learn clicker training, you might as well get it straight from the person who brought this training method into the mainstream.  Karen Pryor started her career by clicker training dolphins.  Yes, dolphins.  She was using operant conditioning – namely positive reinforcement- to increase a behavior she wanted the dolphin to display.  Of course, operant conditioning works on any animal that learns, including humans.  But this book is all about clicker training your dog.

Clicker training certainly has advantages over other markers for good behavior.  It’s 100% consistent.  The dog knows “click” means that behavior he’s performing right now is the one you want.  When you say “good boy” or “good dog” or “YAY Buster” you’re not being consistent and that can potentially confuse your dog.  I know I’m guilty of this next problem: sounding so excited about my dog doing the right thing that she gets distracted and stops doing the right thing.  D’OH!  And finally, it’s easier and faster to click than to think about what you’re going to say and say it.  Again, you’re trying to mark the exact correct behavior, and timing is everything!

The other advantage is that you uncouple the marker for good behavior with the reinforcer.  I know, I’m getting technical, so let me explain.   When you are clicker training, you mark the good behavior with the click.  Then you have all the time in the world to provide the reinforcer (the treat for example).  Let’s say you’re doing treat to train.  That requires you to deliver a treat at the exact moment your dog is performing the correct behavior.  If you can’t get your hand into the treat bag fast enough and give your dog the treat, your dog may not know what earned her the treat.  You may have marked and rewarded the wrong behavior.  Or what if your dog is doing the right thing but is far away from you?  No way you can mark and treat at the same time then, right?  I see this all the time when clients are trying to potty train their dogs.  Your dog goes outside, goes potty, and you call him back inside for a bunch of treats.  What did you reward?  Coming when called.  Which is fantastic, you do want a bomb-proof recall, but that’s not going to help your dog learn to pee and poop outside.

I think the major disadvantage to clicker training is that it requires more hands than I have in some cases.  I have huskies, who are notorious for pulling on a leash.  Which totally makes sense considering they were bred specifically to pull on a harness.  They don’t naturally walk, they trot or run, and both paces are too fast for my fat butt.  So in order to train my dogs to walk nicely on a loose leash at my pace, I need a hand for the leash, a hand for dispensing the treats, and this magical 3rd hand for the clicker.  I know you mommies out there can juggle 3 kids 2 cats and 5 dogs while hauling in the groceries and talking on the phone but that’s way beyond my skill set.  So I’ll be honest, I haven’t clicker trained my dogs.

My best friends clicker trained their dog, and yes, he was much better behaved than any of my dogs.  All of my dogs, actually.  So I do think it’s worthwhile to clicker train, I just haven’t done it with my dogs.  Yet.  After I’ve worked through the Essential Skills for a Brilliant Family Dog set with Annika The Terrible Dog, I’m going to use clicker training to work on 101 Dog Tricks, specifically the trick to get me a beer from the fridge.  Yes, I’m willing to put in the work to be that lazy.

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