Frequently Asked Questions


What is ClickerSolutions?

ClickerSolutions is an e-mail mailing list dedicated to helping pet owners improve the relationship with their pets by teaching training and management techniques which are understandable and reinforcing to both human and animal. For more information, check out Subscribing and List Information.

 

How do I send posts?

In order to send posts, you must first subscribe. Once you're subscribed, you may post to the list by sending e-mail to clickersolutions@yahoogroups.com, or you may post from the YahooGroups site (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ClickerSolutions).

 

What are my mail options?

ClickerSolutions is available in several formats.

  • Individual e-mail -- Receive each post individually as it is posted. This is the most immediate option. However, ClickerSolutions traffic can be quite high.
  • Digest -- The digest option groups posts together in batches of 25 and sends them in one e-mail. This option is good if you want less mailbox traffic but still want to keep up with the list on a daily basis.
  • No-mail/Web only -- This option sends no e-mail. Instead you can read posts at your leisure on the YahooGroups site (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ClickerSolutions). This option is perfect for people...
    • who don't want to receive posts in their mailbox,
    • who want to read online,
    • who want the freedom to check in only occasionally,
    • who want to belong in order to access the archives but not to read current discussions,
    • who are going on vacation

To change your delivery options, go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ClickerSolutions and log in using your YahooID and password. Then click "Edit My Membership" on the right-hand side of the page, and select the mail option you prefer.

Note: If you are a current subscriber, and you don't have a YahooID, go to http://groups.yahoo.com and click "Register" on the upper, left-hand side. Register using the same e-mail address you used to subscribe to ClickerSolutions.

 

How do I stop receiving posts temporarily? I'm going on vacation.

Sometimes you will be away from your computer for a few days and will want to temporarily stop receiving posts. Rather than unsubscribe, you can set your delivery preferences to "No E-mail.".

To change your delivery options, go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ClickerSolutions and log in using your YahooID and password. Then click "Edit My Membership" on the right-hand side of the page, and select the mail option you prefer.

Note: If you are a current subscriber, and you don't have a YahooID, go to http://groups.yahoo.com and click "Register" on the upper, left-hand side. Register using the same e-mail address you used to subscribe to ClickerSolutions.

 

How do I unsubscribe?

To unsubscribe, go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ClickerSolutions and log in using your YahooID and password. Then click "Leave Group" on the right-hand side of the page..

Note: If you are a current subscriber, and you don't have a YahooID, go to http://groups.yahoo.com and click "Register" on the upper, left-hand side. Register using the same e-mail address you used to subscribe to ClickerSolutions.

     

Can I get copies of previous posts?

Yes. Past posts are archived, and are available to subscribers. List archives are available on the YahooGroups site (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ClickerSolutions). Log in using your YahooID and password, and click "Messages" on the left side of the screen.

Note: If you are a current subscriber, and you don't have a YahooID, go to http://groups.yahoo.com and click "Register" on the upper, left-hand side. Register using the same e-mail address you used to subscribe to ClickerSolutions.

 

What is clicker training?

Clicker training is both a training technique and a training philosophy. The term "clicker training" was coined by Karen Pryor, who helped bring clicker training to the world of dog training.

Clicker training, the training technique, is based on the learning theories described in BF Skinner's theory of Operant Conditioning. In clicker training, trainers use an event marker -- usually a noisemaker such as a clicker -- to identify behaviors that they like. Then, after they mark the behavior, they reinforce the behavior, usually with a food treat. The theory of Operant Conditioning says that reinforced (rewarded) behaviors are more likely to be repeated behaviors.

A practical example: A trainer wants to teach his dog to sit. When the dog sits, the trainer clicks and gives the dog a treat. The click means "That behavior right there -- that's what I want!" and "A reward is coming." If the trainer clicks and treats every time the dog sits, the dog will soon figure out that sitting earns a treat and begin offering the sit more often. The trainer then adds a cue, "Sit," to the behavior.

Clicker training, the training philosophy, is more than using a clicker to train your animal. It's a different way of thinking, a way of relating that creates a partnership that is reinforcing and pleasurable for both of you. As a philosophy, clicker training includes the works and ideas of Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson, Bob and Marian Bailey, Turid Rugaas, Murray Sidman and others who believe it's possible to train a dog, raise a family, or live a life based on reinforcement instead of coercion and force.

 

How do I get started?

Getting started is easy. Really, all you need is a clicker or some other event marker, treats, an animal -- and this list! If you'd like to buy some additional books or videos, check out our recommendations.

 

Recommended reading

For a complete list of recommended books and videos, check out the Recommended Reading List page. The list is sorted both by type of resource (clicker books, clicker videos) and by specific audience (beginning clicker trainers).

 

What are R+, R-, P+, P-, and extinction?

You'll see these abbreviations pop up on the list fairly often. They are abbreviations for terms used in Operant Conditioning. They stand for:

  • Positive reinforcement (R+): something is added to increase the occurrence of a behavior. For example, you give the dog a treat to reinforce the sit.
  • Negative reinforcement (R-): something is removed to increase the occurrence of a behavior. For example, in the forced retrieve (not a clicker technique), a dog's ear is pinched to force him to open his mouth to take the dumbbell. When the dog opens his mouth -- the desired behavior -- the ear pinch is released.
  • Positive punishment (P+): something is added to decrease the occurrence of a behavior. For example, a collar pop is applied (not a clicker training technique) to discourage a dog from pulling on the lead.
  • Negative punishment (P-): something is removed to decrease the occurrence of a behavior. For example, turning away (removing attention) from a dog who is jumping up on you.
  • Extinction: weakening of behavior through lack of reinforcement. For example, your dog is learning what the cue "sit" means. You reinforce sits after cue, but ignore -- do not reinforce -- any other behavior. Other behaviors become less likely due to lack of reinforcement.

Is it important to know these definitions? Yes, it is, because it helps us understand each other much better. For example, in everyday usage, positive and negative often mean good and bad. However, on this list, positive and negative mean something added or taken away. Punishment is another word that carries strong connotations in everyday language. In Operant Conditioning, punishment means strictly "reducing the occurrence of a behavior."

 

What are aversives, and why aren't they recommended here?

Aversives are something your dog will work to avoid. They include physically striking the dog (even muzzle taps), collar pops, yelling, electric shock, alpha rolls, scruff shakes, and many others. The removal of something the animal wants -- negative punishment (P-) -- is also an aversive. However on ClickerSolutions it is specifically positive punishment that is off-topic. We do not recommend using aversives because it takes incredible skill to apply aversives effectively without incurring unplanned side-effects and because there are other, equally effective options which neither cause fear and pain nor adversely affect your relationship with your dog.

We, the list owners and hosts, believe that it is possible to train reliable companion, competition, and working animals using a combination of R+, extinction, and (to a far lesser extent) P-. We subscribe to this premise, which is continually proven in practice: Animals learn best when their own capabilities are encouraged and directed into behaviors that help them live well with humans. We set up the animals to succeed, and then reward them for their successes.

If your dog has a problem that you believe cannot be solved without positive punishment, then we encourage you to seek out an experienced positive-methods trainer who can both evaluate the situation and oversee the solution.

 

Do I have to use food? Why can't I just praise my dog? Won't this mean I'll have to carry around a clicker and treats forever?

In order to increase the occurrence of a behavior -- which is what we're trying to do when we train new behaviors -- we have to reinforce the behavior. To do this, you must use a reward that the animal finds reinforcing. That reward can be food, playing with a favorite toy, a belly rub, or, yes, praise. You must find what motivates your dog to do his very best.

It's a common myth that clicker trainers don't use praise. Of course we do! I praise my dog frequently, both in and out of training. But when I'm teaching my dog a new behavior, I want him to be as motivated to get it right as I am, so I use a higher value reward, usually food, in addition to (not instead of) praise.

It's another common myth that using food in training will produce a dog that only works for food or that you'll always have to carry a clicker with you. You can prevent both of these situations.

Reward, don't bribe. If you're using a food lure, fade it quickly, then don't have the food visible when you ask for a behavior. In fact, I like to keep the food in a dish off of my body. The food or toy should be produced only after the dog has performed the behavior.

Once the behavior is on cue, and dog will offer it willingly, fade the clicker and use a verbal marker instead. A verbal marker isn't as precise as a clicker, but at this stage, the dog knows what's being reinforced. Consider the verbal marker a praise marker, letting the dog know that he did something reinforceable.

Once you switch to a verbal marker, begin varying the types of reinforcers. Give him food one time, then play with a toy, then just rub his ears and praise him. Eventually, you can rely on praise more and more often. If you find that the dog becomes frustrated when you begin using other motivators, go back to using a higher ratio of food treats and decrease the ratio of food treats more slowly in the future. You want the absence of the food to motivate the dog to try harder, not to frustrate it into quitting.

 

Do I have to use a clicker? Where can I get one?

The clicker is just a tool -- there's nothing magical about the clicker itself. Clickers are a handy size, however, and easy to carry around. Very few major pet supply chains carry clickers. Instead, you'll have to get them through specialty shops, at dog shows, through clicker trainers, or from the Web. You can purchase clickers from either SitStay GoOut (http://www.sitstay.com), Dogwise (http://www.dogwise.com), or Karen Pryor's Gear Store (http://www.clickertraining.com).

Some people use other tools instead of the clicker. Whistles, for example, are used frequently by people who are training animals to work at a distance. Flashlights are used by people working with deaf animals. Some people also use verbal markers, such as "Good." If you choose a verbal marker, choose a sound like a cluck, rather than a word. Words are not as precise and are not consistently neutral -- we color them with our emotions.

 

What do I do if my dog is afraid of the clicker?

Some dogs are afraid of the sound of the clicker. There are a couple of solutions to this. One solution is to put several strips of adhesive tape over the dimpled end of the clicker. The more layers of tape, the softer the click. As the dog becomes used to the sound, you can begin removing layers of tape. Another solution is to use a different marker. Click the end of a ball point pen. Use the "bubble" on the lid of a baby food jar. Use a whistle or a flashlight.

 

I have more than on dog. How do I work with multiple dogs?

To learn a new skill, your dog needs to concentrate. Our job as trainers is to make this as easy as possible, and one way is to limit distractions during early learning. Other dogs are a huge distraction. It's hard to concentrate when you're worried abotu competing for reinforcement. So do your dog a favor and put the other dogs in another room or behind a baby gate.

Keep training periods short -- between 30 seconds and two minutes. Then switch and do a period with a different dog. The dogs will quickly learn to be quiet and patient as you work with another dog.

 

Can I use clicker training to train my dog for {insert dog sport of your choice}?

Yes. Clicker training is being used successfully to teach all kinds of dog-related activities, including competition obedience, agility, tracking, Schutzhund, flyball, canine musical freestyle, field work, water, and draft. Clicker training is even being used to train service dogs. The behaviors are as reliable as those taught with traditional methods, and the dogs are genuinely enthusiastic about participating. (After all, what's the point of doing these activities if the dogs don't enjoy them?)

 

This positive-stuff may be fine for normal dogs, but my dog is a problem animal! Don't I have to use compulsion methods to solve those problems?

No. The beauty of clicker training is that it works on all animals. Generally, behavior problems are solved by:

  • Identifying the events that trigger the problem behavior.
  • Managing the situation, so the undesired behavior won't occur and be unintentionally reinforced.
  • Defining an alternative behavior that you want your dog to do instead of the problem behavior.
  • Training that behavior in a controlled situation that starts out easy but gets gradually and gradually more difficult.

Post your specific problem to the list. If your dog has a problem that you believe cannot be solved without aversives, then we encourage you to seek out an experienced positive-methods trainer who can both evaluate the situation and oversee the solution.

 

 

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List and Site Owner: Melissa Alexander, mca @ clickersolutions.com