Clicker training can be used to quickly train dogs, cats, horses, dolphins, and killer whales. Yep, that’s right, dogs AND cats (to our knowledge we don’t yet have any dolphin parents as clients just yet… ). You’ve seen them on the shelves at Petco, you’ve read pet training articles that mention them, you may have even heard that strange sound before (our client Lynda described it best,”I thought my neighbor was shaking a can of spray paint over and over again” until she peeked around the bushes and saw that her neighbor was actually clicker training their dog). The clicker is a puzzling tool at first glance… and second. A small plastic box with a metal tongue inside that makes a sharp and distinctive noise when you press it with your thumb. It’s a puzzling little tool that is the axis of modern scientific dog training.
The Clicker is a marker… no, not like Mr. Sketch
I suspect that anyone who has ever tried to color with a clicker quickly determined that it is some other kind of marker, okay enough nerdy dog training jokes. In the simplest form, a marker is a signal to the dog that they have done what you want. Typically this is a sound- because sounds can be recognized regardless of the dog or cat’s body position or point of focus-so long as they are within audible distance. For a marker to be effective it needs to
1)be ‘charged’ by being associated with a high value reward and
2) happen with a 1/2 second of the desired behavior. You’re thinking, “What, 1/2 second? That’s cray cray!” but no, it’s not… when you’re using a clicker. Upon proficiency, when you use a clicker to indicate “yes!” to your pet, you circumvent slower parts/processes of your brain and body which increases the timeliness and therefore the impact of your marker. That bears repeating: When you use a clicker to indicate “yes!” to your pet, you circumvent slower parts of your brain and body which increases the timeliness and therefore the impact of your marker.
The clicker is the ultimate marker…
As Prismacolor is to art markers, the clicker is to pet training markers. Okay, that may be useless for those of you who weren’t pen and ink artists at some point, like me. But the Prismacolor is the Cadillac of art markers. And the clicker is the Cadillac of training markers. (Rap analogy? If Jay-Z were rapping about what an awesome animal trainer he is, he would be rapping about all his clickers and covering them in diamonds, dangled from his neck). Here’s why- scientists believe that when you use words to communicate with your pet, he has to process those words through his cerebral cortex, i.e. the analytical center of the brain. This part of the brain is very thorough but relatively slow, cognitively speaking. Because the sound that a clicker produces is aurally simple, and novel (therefore singular in it’s meaning), the sound a clicker produces is processed by the amygdala, aka the ‘reptile brain’. It only processes extremely simple information and it does so quickly. The amygdala is instinctive, decisive, and instantaneous in it’s conclusions. To illustrate:
the cerebral cortex hears “yes!” and thinks,”y.e.s. that is yes. Sometimes that is affirmative, sometimes is it said sarcastically. I have heard this sound in many places from many people to many others. Is that “yes!” directed at me? Oh it is? Okay. Was it affirmative, sarcastic, enthusiastic, or hateful? Wait… what was I doing when she said it?”… by contrast, the amygdala hears “click” and thinks, “click=deliciousness=good”.
Should you use a clicker when training your dog?
I have one determining question: Would you rather have an urgent and important conversation via handwritten letters delivered via USPS Ground or over the phone?
Want to try with your pet?