Clicker training started quite a long time ago. In the 30's B.F. Skinner developed the laws of learning. Two of his doctoral students, Keller and Marian Breland, developed a system for teaching animals that was to become the operant conditioning or positive reinforcement method. They made their own clickers and started using them in 1943 to train dogs, parakeets, dolphins and even cockroaches. Their methods were adopted first and foremost in the field of marine animal training since those animals cannot be put on lead or punished for bad behaviour - if you have seen performing marine animals such as dolphins, whales, sea lions etc., you have seen the results of positive reinforcement. But we owe popular Clicker Training for dogs to Karen Pryor, a behavioural biologist with many years experience in the marine animal training world, who wrote a book in 1985 entitled "Don't Shoot the Dog". Despite its title, the book was about positive reinforcement in general and not only about dog training. The starting point was in May 1992 at a panel discussion between trainers and scientists at the Association for Behavioural Analysis meeting in San Francisco, followed a few days later by a "Don't Shoot the Dog" seminar for 250 dog trainers conducted by Karen Pryor, Gary Wilkes and marine mammal trainer Ingrid Schallenberger. The result is a vast movement of clicker trainers who teach their dogs by following the scientific laws of learning rather than forcing them into a behaviour.

The clicker is a marker which, unlike the voice, has the advantage of being neutral, rapid and precise. It tells the dog, "That's what I want," without any emotion. The dog understands very quickly and, thanks to the clicker, we get dogs that not only obey, but do so willingly. By using the clicker, we are not imposing a behaviour, but rather suggesting it. We teach the dog to act and not to react.

Bad behaviours are ignored and not punished. The reason for using omission and not punishment is that punishment doesn't show the dog what we want. Punishment can indeed eliminate the dog's unwanted behaviour, but the harmful effects can be more serious than the unwanted behaviour itself. Moreover, punishment is always linked to the presence of the trainer, so that once she isn't around the unwanted behaviour may return. Finally, the punished dog will try to avoid the situation or flee, which would be catastrophic for training; punishment also tends suppress any initiative the dog may have, and creates fear of the trainer. In clicker training, punishment cannot be used because we want the dog to think and act, and punishment or even a simple "no" might arrest his creativity. For the same reason, we don't touch the dog during training sessions, we just guide him and leave it up to him to search and discover what makes you click.

The result of clicker training is a happy, joyful dog who obeys because he wants to, and not because he is afraid of being punished.




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