ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Clicker Trainers: Buyer Beware

I know that quite a few of you are interested in clicker training, and this is an issue I've been wanting to address for some time now. I've been 'into' clickers for quite a few years. I'm thoroughly convinced that clicker training is the most effective, fun, and easy training method out there. Clearly, many others are starting to agree. Folks who want to learn more about clicker training are starting to find more books and materials available than ever before. They are also finding more instructors out there who call themselves clicker trainers.

Unfortunately, in some cases, those who call themselves clicker trainers are not being completely accurate. While they may use a clicker for some training, they may not actually understand and follow the underlying philosophy that focuses on the use of positive reinforcement. Instead, they are mixing clicker training with other, more traditional styles and methods. This is going to dilute the value of the clicker as a training tool, and, in the long run, confuse the dog.

In my opinion, a clicker trainer is someone who is dedicated to using positive techniques to develop and change behavior. No one would claim to be 100% positive in his or her training methods, but a true clicker trainer strives for the highest percentage reasonably possible. If someone says that he or she uses a clicker, but that corrections are necessary or required, that's a red flag. Ask questions. When are corrections needed? Why? What type of corrections are used? When? If a person claiming to be a clicker trainer suggests hitting your dog with any object or using a shock collar in certain instances, you're not dealing with someone who's staying true to that positive focus.

People will say that punishment is a part of operant conditioning (learning theory) as well as reinforcement. This is true. However, a clicker trainer would work to avoid punishment whenever possible. Even when applied correctly, punishment will have undesirable side effects. Punishment also sets you up for a confrontational, rather than a cooperative training relationship with your dog. Most people gravitate to clicker training because they don't like that old 'jerk 'em and pull 'em' mentality.

Why is it important to stick to the positive focus as much as possible? Think about it from the dog's perspective. Clicker training is all fun and happy and cookies and 'good dogs' for trying new things. Then the dog tries something and gets a leash pop, or bonked on the head with an empty soda bottle or towel, or zapped. Now the dog's confused. What happened? How did we go from cookies and clicks to punishment? A dog treated in this manner will lose trust in his trainer. I want my dogs to know that I would never hurt or scare them.

Be aware that just because someone writes books, produces videos, or holds seminars on clicker training, that doesn't make him or her a true positive trainer. Many people are jumping on the clicker bandwagon because they see a way to appeal to owners who are looking for a 'better way' to train. This is unfortunate but true. As always 'buyer beware'. Don't be misled.

I love clicker training and hope that many of you learn how to do it correctly and effectively. Your dogs will thank you for it! Getting off soapbox now....

Deborah Jones, Ph.D.
Copyright 1999 Deborah Jones


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