Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Don't Click

I'd like to set the record straight about my positive-reinforcement training...I have so far not needed to, and actually prefer NOT to clicker train. But I’m not “anti-clicker”.

Clicker training IS positive-reinforcement training. This method “marks” desired behavior by using a mechanical device that makes a "click" sound. In Psych-speak a “marker” is a signal to the animal that it is doing the right thing. The marker is quickly followed up with a reward (typically food) to reinforce the behavior.

I, and other non-clicker positive-reinforcement trainers, mark behavior with the word “good”. The methodology is the same. The equipment is different.

So why do I refrain from clicking? First, let me say if someone wants to use a clicker I’ll be happy to teach them. And I do endorse this method of training. It’s just not my preference. When I began as a trainer, I mentored with a non-clicker professional. I learned that with any form of positive-reinforcement, TIMING of markers and rewards is more important that the form they come in.

Other reasons I don’t click includes feedback from clients previously experienced with clicker classes:
- the dog was scared or otherwise made anxious by “click” noise.
- complaints that if timing wasn’t perfect, training did not go well.

When it comes right down to it, I have no need to carry around one more piece of equipment when using my voice works just as effectively. I always carry that with me. So even outside of formally practicing with my dog, if she does something naturally that I want to train I can still say “good” and give her some form or reward and not worry about where I left my clicker.

In closing I want to reiterate that there is absolutely nothing wrong with using clickers to train. Any training that is based on positive reinforcement and is effective is worth exploring. Some dogs actually do BETTER with clicker training (most likely because the owner does better for a variety of possible reasons). As with any training, it is a matter of find out what works best for both you and your dog.


  1. Interesting post.

    I think experienced positive trainers do fine with or with out a clicker. I heard Steve Martin (a bird and zoo trainer) speak last week, and one really interesting thing he talked about was how sometimes he takes the clickers away from zoo trainers because the animal is actually reading the trainer's body movements as opposed to listening for the click. (I wrote some about his talk here:

    However, for people inexperienced with training and marking behaviors, I think the clicker is a great learning tool for teaching the person. In her clinics, Alexandra Kurland sometimes gives everyone watching a demonstration a clicker and has them click when they'd reinforce a behavior. People are so verbal, and I think that a short, total distinct signal can really help some people start to learn good timing.

    You also said: "Clicker training IS positive-reinforcement training."

    I wish dearly that we had a better phrase for it than clicker training. Positive-reinforcement training is such a mouthful. But calling it clicker training can be deceiving. I come from the horse world, and there's plenty of people who combine clicker training with aversives and negative reinforcement. Are they clicker training? Or just training with a clicker? No wonder some people find clicker training so confusing.

    Anyways, I recently found your blog and am enjoying reading through it!


    Mary H.

  2. Thank you so much! As an apprentice dog trainer, I've been confused about why our trainers use clickers to teach one or two specific behaviors (like 'Go to your rug'), but use the word "good" as reinforcement for all other behaviors. The 'project dog' I've been assigned as part of my training is EXTREMELY sensitive to the clicker sound -- he can't be in the room when one is being used, or he freaks out. It is nice to read such an articulate explanation of why clickers are basically the same as other verbal positive reinforcements.


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