by Ruth I. Kellogg

I shall be discussing an overview of the theory behind our dog training. I believe this is relevant to all who choose to educate themselves and the various individuals in their lives. There is a plethora of information about behavior and learning theory in books, tapes (audio and video), and the Internet. I shall not attempt to discuss all the various ramifications of each topic but rather give a brief explanation with examples. Perhaps this may encourage others to explore some of the topics more thoroughly. By understanding the why (and theory) behind various teaching/learning methods, we can then make more informed choices as to what method or how we choose to teach our dogs what is desired.

I will, however, share the names of books that I have found to be extremely helpful. The many books and articles by Karen Pryor are focussed more on operant conditioning. Her books that I have and enjoy are: "Don’t Shoot the Dog!", "Lads Before the Wind", and a collection of her essays and research papers compiled in "On Behavior". Another author who I also enjoy is Pamela J. Read, PhD, who in addition to her articles in Dogs in Canada, has written a book titled Ex-cellerated Learning……explaining in pure English how dogs learn and how best to teach them.

This article shall first focus on general learning theory and then I’ll discuss four other topics leading to the final topic of teaching our dogs using a conditioned reinforcer.

Learning Theory

All living beings are capable of learning. While some organisms are only capable of learning the simplest of behaviors, others are capable of learning very complex behaviors. In psychology/behavior circles the recognized three types of learning are vicarious (modeling) learning, classical conditioning, and operant conditioning.

Vicarious Learning (Modeling)

In this type of learning, an individual learns through observation of another’s behavior. Part of vicarious learning is not only knowing what (to do) but when (to do it). In a simpler term, it is mimicry. The individual watches others to see what behavior to do, when to do it, and what are the likeliest results that will occur if/when the behavior is done. A common example of vicarious learning is how a young pups learns various household routines from the older dig(s) in the house. To expand: each of my housegirls has a special spot that they retire to when we have "quiet times." Not only do the girls go to their respective spots, but they must also lie down before getting a treat. Puppies rapidly learn that the treats come more quickly the faster they go and lie down in "their" spots.

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is learning through association. It involves involuntary behavior that is elicited by the environment. Probably the most famous example of this is the series of experiments by Ivan Pavlov involving a bell, a dog, food, and saliva.

Pavlov recognized that a dog began to salivate involuntarily at the sound of a bell that preceded the dog’s feeding. He noted other associations that also stimulated the dog’s saliva production; the lab attendants walking to the laboratory and then the activity of the lab attendants at the food storage cupboard. Pavlov then conducted further experiments pairing the association of feeding to other stimuli such as different types of sounds.

In the beginning of classical conditioning, the response of the animal (eg. dog) is involuntary. Then the animal begins to experience and eventually memorizes the various contingencies in its environment. It learns about anticipation.

In anticipation, the animal learns that there are predictable relationships between events. An example is the lab attendant walking into a lab, Pavlov’s dog anticipating being fed, and the dog salivating. The animal then learns to respond to the first event in anticipation of the second event. Even though there is anticipation, it must be emphasized that the response to the stimulus is involuntary. (eg. the dog couldn’t help salivating while the food was being prepared.)

Anticipation can apply to other behavior than those associated with food. For example, the leaping and howling that sled dogs do when they see their harnesses clearly demonstrate their association of the appearance of the harnesses with the joy of running though the snow.

The Pavlovian conditioning or respondent conditioning (as termed by B.G. Skinner) is responsible for many actions and reactions in all organisms. It must be emphasized that the organism has little control as the environment elicits the (responding) behavior from it. Strong repetitive fear reactions are examples of classical conditioning to a previous event(s). For example, a thunderstorm terrifies a young puppy the first time he hears it. Every storm thereafter can elicit an involuntary fear reaction from the puppy.

Counter conditioning is utilized to reverse the fear-based conditioning that occurred previously. This is done by presenting a different unconditioned stimulus which elicits an unconditioned response that is incompatible with fear. Because the procedure of counter conditioning can be difficult, desensitization is often added. Desensitization involves a gradual increase in the fear provoking stimulus until the full amount of the stimulus is realized. In the process, adding a new unconditioned stimulus is added to replace the fear provoking stimulus.

In our example of a thunderstorm phobia, the counter conditioning ideally involves a recording of thunderstorms (such as the CD produced by Solitudes), lots of treats, patience, and timing. By timing, the counter-conditioning for thunderstorms should be done in the winter months when there are no thunderstorms. Initially play the recording very quietly and associate the sound of thunder with a treat. As the dog relaxes, the sound can be intensified. Once the dog is comfortable with the recorded sounds, the handler must remember to reinforce this counter conditioning at the onset and during actual thunderstorms until the dog is able to relax on its own. Counter conditioning is along process and, to be effective, should not be rushed at all.

It is important to understand classical conditioning as Pamela Reid explains: "if you don’t understand how it works, you can end up incorporating procedures that interfere with what you are trying to accomplish. You can be in for an extremely difficult time if you try to teach a behavior that is incompatible with the behaviors that are elicited by reinforcement."

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning, unlike classical conditioning, involves voluntary behavior by the individual. Simply, the individual chooses to respond in a particular way which then elicits a stimulus. The individual is said to be behaving operantly if it is modifying its behavior in response to the comparison of results achieved by its responses. The individual is constantly exploring the consequences of its own actions.

Edward L. Thorndike, a behaviorist pre-dating B.C.Skinner, proposes a "Law of Effect": If a consequence is pleasant, the preceeding behavior becomes more likely. If a consequence is unpleasant, the preceding behavior becomes less likely." Or, in another quote from Thordike, "Pleasure stamps in, pain stamps out."

In operant conditioning, there are four possible scenarios: two that increase the likelihood of the behavior re-occuring and two that decrease the likelihood that the behavior will reoccur. These are:

Positive Reinforcement: produces a pleasant effect. Eg. dog sits on command and receives a treat.
Negative Reinforcement: removes the bad consequence when the response is performed. Eg. Dog sits and the choking slip collar loosens.
Positive Punishment: involves the presentation of a bad consequence when the response is performed. Eg. Dog lies down when told to sit and is roughly jerked into a sit position with the lead.
Negative Punishment: involves the removal of a good consequence when the response is performed. Eg. when the dog lies down instead of sitting, the handler eats the treat that he was going to give the dog.

It is important to understand that the two kinds of reinforcement strengthen the responses and increase the probability that the responses will occur again. The two kinds of punishment weaken the responses and decrease the probability that the responses will reoccur.

As Operant Conditioning is a large topic and constitutes the basis of the majority of our dog training, I shall explore it further in its own section.

Operant Conditioning

To be able to educate our dogs effectively, we must have an understanding of operant conditioning, the backbone of all training. All dog training methods stem from operant conditioning whether the methods use positive or negative reinforcements as their primary motivators.

To review, in operant conditioning, the subject changes its behavior in response to achieving a goal or desired effect. In 1938,m B.F. Skinner developed the basic concept of operant conditioning. He claimed this type of learning was not the result of stimulus-response learning (i.e. classical/Pavlovian conditioning) but rather of the subject making a choice and the resultant reinforcer of that choice. Skinner chose the term "operant" conditioning to denote that the subject is the operator as it were of tits choices and not just a passive participant.

Skinner learned there are two kinds of reinforcement that strengthen the subject’s response thus increasing the probability that the behavior would reoccur. One of the reinforcements (positive) ADDS something pleasurable to the subject (eg. food treat). The other reinforcer (negative accomplishes its effect by REMOVING something unpleasant or adverse to the subject’s environment (eg. tight choke collar or ear pinch).

He also learned there are two punishments which weaken the probability that the behavior will reoccur. The first, positive punishment, adds a direct or averse effect to the subject (eg. strong jerk of choke collar). The other punishment (negative punishment) has also been termed extinction. In this, an undesired behavior has no effect upon the subject’s environment and will then fade. (Eg. A dog who begs for a treat will eventually give up If he is totally ignored every time. Any attention or reaction from the person with the food whether it be positive or negative attention will only increase the begging behavior.)

Skinner found that the two methods of punishment are not as effective as the reinforcement methods. In punishment, the focus is not on the actual action of the subject but what the behavior should be. It also can elicit some undesired emotions (eg. resentment, anger, apathy) and psychological problems and not be conducive to continued relationships.

Specifically, in dog training these four effects of operant conditioning are generally known as Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Punishment, and Extinction. While the current trend is teaching dogs using positive reinforcement, there are times, I believe, when each of the other methods must be used. The danger in following one method exclusively is that the trainer becomes so blinded by "their method" that the individual dog and its unique needs are forgotten. What may work well with one dog (or a particular breed) may be totally different from what is needed with a different dog or breed.

As mentioned previously, there is a plethora of information available on the various methods and cures for dog training and dog related problems. It is impossible to explore the scope of each method thoroughly in an article so I encourage readers to search out the information that is available. Every person who has trained many dogs has favorite methods, teachers, and ideas that they use. I urge each trainer to search for new ideas constantly. While you may not agree with all the ways a particular person uses, perhaps something they say or do might be useful to try.

At this point, I’ll briefly cover the four methods of Operant Conditioning.

Positive Reinforcement

This type of teaching became more mainstream in dog training in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Now it is the most common "method" being taught. To review, in positive reinforcement training, the subject (dog) receives a pleasurable effect (treat, pat, play with a toy…) after changing its behavior to what the trainer wants. The dog has the choice to modify its behavior (and thus get a treat etc.) or not to modify its behavior (and not get the treat etc.). Dogs are not stupid beings. Like us, they enjoy pleasure and pleasurable events so will "work" for these rewards. In true positive reinforcement work, there is no pain only gain (of pleasure) in a training session. Common and becoming mainstream methods are lure training (eg. luring the puppy into a down position, for example, by having it follow a food treat) and clicker training. The biggest advantage of positive reinforcement is the positive attitudes developed towards learning in both the dog and trainer.

Negative Reinforcement

This is the "old-style" of dog training that is seen with heavy usages of choke collars, jerking leashes, and ear-pinching. To review, in negative reinforcement, the subject (dog) modifies its behavior to stop or avoid an unpleasant adverse condition. The dog has a choice to change its behavior (eg. opens its mouth for the dumb bell) and thus receives relief from the uncomfortable ear-0inch or not to open its mouth thus enduring pain. Yes, there can be very strong behavior patterns set in. An example is the quick moving out in heeling positions to avoid the "pop" of the lead (and tightening of choke collar) after the command "heel" is given. It must be emphasized that this method is fear-based. With intelligent dogs, this type of training builds strong negative feelings of resentment, anger, and eventual apathy creating the resulting effect of a dog who is lackluster in its work – if it does work at all.


To review, a behavior is weakened by the consequence of experiencing a negative condition. An example is a curious puppy sniffing a lit candle. The flame hurts the puppy’s nose (negative condition) and the puppy is unlikely to sniff a burning candle again. Thus the behavior is weakened. One-trial learning comes under the umbrella of punishment in its methods. In this, the subject receives such a strong negative effect to its behavior that it learns (in one trial)not to repeat that particular behavior.


To review this term, the behavior is weakened by the subject not experiencing a positive result nor stopping a negative result by its behavior. With more attempts (repetitions) of the same behavior and achieving the same lack of results, the behavior will fade away. This can be useful in our dog’s education. An example is crate-training a puppy. If you know the puppy is not physically stressed (doesn’t need to eliminate, has been fed and watered, isn’t too hot or cold) and is just being noisy and complaining, ignoring the noisy pup until it is quiet will (eventually) extinguish the tantrum-like behavior. The ignored noisy behavior is extinguished. When the pup is quiet and gets the attention that it is hollering for, the quiet behavior is then rewarded (positive reinforcement).

It is important to understand the difference between reinforcement and reward. Reinforcement (positive or negative) can be termed as anything that is used in conjunction with a behavior can increase the probability of that behavior reoccuring. It occurs during or immediately after the conclusion of the desired behavior. (In this way it gives the subject/dog immediate information about its behavior.) Reward or punishment both occur after the act is completed. There is little or no direct correlation between the behavior performed and the reward/punishment as the emphasis is on the behavior desired.

In the next section, I shall focus on the Positive Reinforcement method of Operant Conditioning.

Positive Reinforcement

Teaching our dogs through the use of positive reinforcement is the most popular method of operant conditioning. The biggest reasons, I feel, that it has become so widespread is that it enables a person to teach a dog what is desired in an easy way that creates pleasure for both. Many of us do not enjoy creating discomfort in our companions or teaching them in such a way as to create fear and insecurity.

People who use positive reinforcement in their dog training and daily life must become aware of the positive effects that are created. Who among us does not like receiving a "well done", a reward/surprise or the opportunity to enjoy a favorite activity when we have done a task well. Our dogs are no different from us. They, too, like the praise, rewards, activities, and recognition that we strive for in our daily lives.

In review, in positive reinforcement (of operant conditioning) a subject chooses to change its behavior to receive a positive effect (such as praise, reward, favorite activity) in its environment. A reinforcement occurs during or immediately after the behavior is done. In positive reinforcement, the subject wants to achieve the reward and changes its behavior until it gets it. With repeated attempts with similar behavior changes giving rewards ultimately changes the behavior. This is pure behavior modification using incentives.

What can be used as reinforcements? The answer is simple – whatever works! The reinforcement must be species appropriate (eg. while a dolphin would work happily for a fish, a horse wouldn’t) and be something that the subject enjoys. Attempting to use food as an incentive for a ball-crazy dog is as useless as trying to use a ball as incentive for a strongly food orientated dog. Changing the reinforcements – even during a training session – adds variety and increases the attention and enjoyment factor of the subject.

The size of the reinforcement in a training session is very important. The premise is to use as small an amount of the motivator as possible to achieve the result of the subject (eg. dog) doing the behavior. Small amounts of the motivator increase the interest in the subject getting more of it as well as keeping its focus in the training session and not, for instance, playing ball. When using food, use tiny amounts as the idea is to get as many behaviors as possible not to feed a meal during the graining session. If the dog becomes satiated, he won’t have the same desire to work. When using a toy or activity as the motivation, keep the sessions very brief otherwise the dog won’t be interested in working at all.

There is one exception to using small amounts of the motivator. Karen Pryor terms this exception a "jackpot". These are much larger than the normal motivator. (For instance, instead of giving a tiny piece of a hot dog, a whole hotdog is given.) These are big surprises and should not be over-used to keep the surprise effect. Jackpots are wonderful in marking a large breakthrough in a training session and are extremely effective.

Timing of giving the reinforcements is extremely important. Generally, if a new trainer is having difficulty in teaching his dog, the problem is usually with the timing of the reinforcement. Given too early, it doesn’t reinforce the actual behavior desired by rather the behavior that precedes the desired behavior. Too early a reinforcement is also bribery which is highly ineffective. If the reinforcement is given too late, the opportunity for acknowledging the actual behavior desired has been lost. Again, it is also ineffective. Correctly timed reinforcements do change behavior. Reinforcement communicate information to the subject about its behavior and must be given during or immediately after the desired behavior is achieved.

Three are three types of schedules that outline how reinforcements should be given to the subject.

The first schedule, constant reinforcement, is to be used in the learning phase. This means the subject (dog) receives the positive reinforcement (treat) each time it changes its behavior on cue (lies down). The reinforcer acts as information and the dog must learn that when the cue (in this case, "down") is given, he must change his behavior (i.e. lie down) in order to receive the positive reinforcement (treat). It has been shown through studies that while the subject continues to learn at a steady and moderate rate, overall there is a gradual slowing of the subject’s response times with brief and predictable pauses between the cue and the behavior shown.

The second type of reinforcement schedule is the fixed ratio schedule. There is a fixed number of correct responses required by the subject before it receives a reward. This cold be as often as 2:1 (two responses to one reward) or more spread out such as five responses to one reward. Studies have shown that the subject responds at a high and steady rate except immediately after the reinforcement before the next behavior is given. This is termed the post-reinforcement pause. The more responses the subject must make before it is rewarded, the longer the post-reinforcement pauses become.

The third schedule is the variable reinforcement schedule. In this, there is no set ratio of responses required for rewards. It allows great spontaneity for the trainer in rewarding the dog. For example, such a schedule might be one response/one reward; three responses; one reward; one response/one reward; five responses/one reward, two responses/one reward The strength of the variable ratio schedule is its unpredictability. Studies have shown that the subject responds at a high steady rate with a minimal post-reinforcement pause. A classic example is a slot machine.

Generally speaking, once a subject (eg. dog) has learned a behavior, it should be put on a variable ratio schedule. There is, however, one exception to this. Any time a subject must make a choice or solve a puzzle (eg. scent discrimination), the subject must be rewarded every time (constant reinforcement schedule). This is the only exception and should be adhered to without question.

Coupling the positive reinforcement techniques with an attitude of kindness, love, and clarity of purpose will give the trainer an obedient and educated dog. But this dog, unlike those trained exclusively with negative reinforcement, will be an individual who is confident, able to be flexible, has a developed sense of humor, can think and reason, and has a desire to learn more.

When a trainer has developed a clear and concise method of communicating what exactly is desired to his dog, then their education will take a quantum leap forward. Such a method is clicker training which, when used with shaping techniques, enables a trainer to teach his dog easily and without force. So before a clicker is picked up and clicked for the first time, a trainer must have an idea how to "shape" the behavior he is teaching.


The term "shaping" is what B. F. Skinner called the method of achieving progressive changes of behaviors. It is usually used in positive reinforcement methods of operant conditioning. The term itself brings to mind the creation of a complete picture, one small brush stroke at a time. The analogy to creating a painting is as appropriate as to changing behavior using shaping as a tool, the whole process is a creative one which works toward the ultimate "picture" of what is desired. In behavior work, we are not dealing with a static object but individuals with minds and behaviors of their own. Shaping is reinforcing behavior that is already occurring so that it will reoccur more frequently.

Shaping uses what Skinner termed successive approximations in the process. This means that the behavior is progressively closer to the ideal picture in the trainer’s mind is rewarded. For instance, to shape a dog into sitting in a perfect heel position, the steps may be as follows: reward for a sit at the side (which is probably crooked and not close at all) and then each time the dog sits a little closer to the ideal, it is rewarded. It is not rewarded any time that it moves father out or more crooked than it had been. It is important to remember that in operant conditioning, it is the subject/student who initiates the changes in behavior. There will be periods of trial and error learning. If the undesired behavior is ignored and only the desired/closer approximation to what is desired is rewarded, then the behavior will then be shaped into what is desired.

The successive approximations are also used in a larger context to shape a series of learned behaviors/tasks. These are termed behavior chains. Teaching a behavior chain will not be successful, however, if even one of the components in the chain has not been solidly learned or the behavior of the subject (eg. dog) has not been brought under stimulus control. Dogs who successfully learn behavior chains become multi-tasking individuals such as service dogs, obedience dogs, movie dogs, and search and rescue dogs.

The secret to behavior chains is teaching the last behavior in the chain first. The subject is rewarded after this behavior and learns to look for the reward after this particular behavior. Then the second to last behavior is taught coupled with the last behavior before the reward. Other behaviors are then added in front of the previous learned behavior until the subject has learned a series of tasks/behaviors before being rewarded.

To illustrate, consider the many behaviors and steps in the retrieve on the flat. In the full exercise, the dog must learn to accept the dumb bell, carry it, relinquish it upon command as well as physically fetch the dumbbell. The dog must also know the finish or return to heel exercise. The steps that I use to teach retrieve on the flat are:
opening the mouth, holding the dumbbell
giving the dumbbell upon command
reaching for the dumbbell
picking up the dumbbell off the ground
going to the dumbbell on the ground with handler
going to the dumbbell on the ground without handler]
returning to handler with dumbbell in mouth
straight sit in front of handler with dumbbell in mouth
holding the dumbbell until commanded to relinquish while sitting in front of the handler after fetching the dumbbell
returning to heel position
going to get the dumbbell on command (handler stays)
waiting in heel position for command to get dumbbell after it was thrown

So once each step has been learned completely, the full behavior chain is put together. The final behavior chain for this exercise from the last behavior to the first is: return to heel, sit in front with dumbbell, returning with dumbbell, retrieving dumbbell, and waiting in heel position for command to retrieve. The end reward is given after the dog has returned to heel position.

The following is Karen Pryor’s Ten Laws of Shaping from "Don’t Shoot the Dog!". I refer readers to this book for her thorough discussion of each point.
Raise criteria in increments small enough so that the subject always has a realistic chance for reinforcement.
Train one thing at a time; don’t try to shape for two criteria simultaneously.
Always put the current level of response onto a variable schedule of reinforcement before adding or raising criteria.
When introducing a new criterion, temporarily relax the old ones.
Stay ahead of your subject: Plan your shaping programs completely so that when your subject makes sudden progress you are aware of what to reinforce next.
Don’t change trainers in midstream; you can have several trainers per trainee but stick to one shaper per behavior.
If one shaping procedure is not eliciting progress, find another; there are as many ways to get behavior as there are trainers to think them up.
Don’t interrupt a training session gratuitously; that constitutes a punishment.
If behavior deteriorates, "go back to kindergarten"; quickly review the whole shaping process with a series of easy reinforcements.
End each session on a high note, if possible, but in any case, quit while you’re ahead.

Teaching requires the educator to first educate themselves. Only by a thorough understanding of the lesson or how to teach what is desired can a teacher be effective. By understanding the "bare bones" basics of learning theory, operant conditioning, positive reinforcement, and shaping, suing a conditioned reinforcer, such as a clicker, changes from being a "trick that some trainers use" to a useful tool.

Clicker Training

Using conditioned reinforcers in behavioral modification or animal training was initiated and developed by Keller Breland, Marian Breland Baily, and Bob Bailey in the mid 1940’s. They used a whistle as a conditioned reinforcer as they were working with marine animals at that time. For many ears, their work seemed to be known only to other researchers in behavioral science. In 1975, Karen Prior published "Lads Before the Wind" which chronicled her work with the marine animals at Hawaii’s Sea Life Park. She continued to explore using conditioned reinforcers with other species with her ponies and dogs with a "dime-store" metal clicker instead of a whistle. The first publishing of "Don’t’ Shoot the Dog! "in 1984d became a best seller and the work about "clicker training" was out. In 1992, Karen Pryor and Gary Wilkes gave the first clicker training seminar to 250 dog trainers. Since that seminar in the San Francisco area, clicker training has become known and used worldwide in areas such as dog training, horse training, zoos, and marine facilities.

"Clicker training" is a popularized term for operant conditioning using a conditioned reinforcer to teach/train positively. It is a valuable tool in shaping behaviors precisely. The term comes from the widespread use of a popular metal clicker encased in a rectangular plastic box. (These can be obtained from The Clickerpet.com) But the training can be done using other tools. Other conditioned reinforcers that have been used are objects making a unique and distinct noise (hair clip, ballpoint pen, stapler, small metal bottle cap with a "freshness pop up seal"), a small flashlight, a special touch on the side of a dog’s face, or even a thumbs up sign.

There is a distinct difference between an unconditioned and a conditioned reinforcer. An unconditioned or primary reinforcer is something the animal would want even without training. A conditioned or secondary reinforcer is an initially meaningless signal or stimulus that stands for one or more primary reinforcers. The animal, with training, learns to want the conditioned reinforce. In the training, the conditioned reinforcer is paired directly with a primary reinforcer that the animal does want (such as a treat). The animal then learns that the desired object/treat will come after the sound, for instance, of the conditioned reinforcer. Thus the animal learns that click = treat =something he wants. When the pairing of the click and treat is solid, then the equation becomes click = something he wants. The something the animal wants can ultimately evolve to desire for approval, recognition and/or a sense of accomplishment.

The clicker is a teaching tool and like many other aids in training, once the animal has learned the behavior/task that it was taught with the clicker, the clicker can be phased out of use. The behavior that was learned is then maintained with praise, approval, and a variable schedule of reinforcement with a primary reinforcer such as a food treat. Then the trainer can use clicker work to teach other behaviors and tasks.

Clicker work or other conditioned reinforcers appear to be a more powerful tool than other methods. Here re some reasons why this is so.
Conditioned reinforcers are used constructively and abundantly. The teaching session is extremely positive with many rewards.
Timing of primary and conditioned reinforcers is extremely accurate. A mistimed "click" can inadvertently reinforce behavior not desired. This encourages trainers to become extremely cognizant of their timing of the clicks.
Trainers must think about their teaching/shaping programs. Successful shaping is taught in small increments. While the trainer must have a clear picture of the ultimate desired behavior, the many steps to achieving it using shaping with conditioned reinforcers must be thought through.
Trainers do not rely on punishment or negative corrections to teach behavior. Clicker work is teaching with positive reinforcements at a very refined level.
Clicker work can be utilized in teaching unlimited behaviors and skills to a very wide variety of beings.
Clickers offer a clear marker signal for a conditioned reinforcer that is new to the animal. It is the uniqueness of the "new" sound that the animal alerts to as opposed to just more verbal babble from the human that they have to sort through! A click is faster than giving a verbal "good dog" and has more scope for its application. When learning a new skill, the dog can be encouraged verbally, but it is the click that signals "That’s right!".
Clicker work is intellectually stimulated for both the trainer and animal. It encourages both to learn and to want to learn more.
Best of all, it is fun! Learning through pleasure is effective, painless, and lasting.

A trainer who starts to explore the usages of conditioned reinforcers and clicker work in particular can easily become a convert. The ability to teach a variety of behaviors and to a variety of different species is only limited by the trainer’s imagination and patience. Clicker work requires trainers to think, plan, and develop patience. While the behaviors may seem like they take longer to teach, once they are learned properly, there is little need for problem solving/retraining. Refinements in behavior (such as a straighter sit, higher jump, or pricking ears) can be taught with clickers. Acknowledging desired behaviors (such as choosing the right glove in directed retrieve, downing quickly in drop on recall) can be positively reinforced at a distance without breaking the flow of the whole exercise. The dog is able to understand the process the click as information that he did the task correctly even while still doing the full exercise.

Fortunately as clicker training increases in popularity, there are numerous resources that people can access for information. Many articles have appeared in various dog magazines. Videos and books are also available. Now, thanks to the Internet, there is a plethora of information on various websites devoted to clicker training. Two sites I enjoy are Karen Pryor’s www.clickertraining.com and Gary Wilkes’ www.clickandtreat.com. A newsletter (The Clicker Journal) is also available for clicker trainers. It can be accessed through www.clickertrain.com.

Clicker training can be used with any age of dog from pups in the whelping box to seniors. Puppies and adolescents who are typically unfocused with short attention spans really benefit from clicker work.

Reading about clicker work is no substitute, however, for experience. Experience comes directly from clicking, treating, and evaluating the results constantly. A training journal is very useful to chronicle and evaluate the dog’s progress. Dog training instructors who teach clicker training are available. It is advisable to have an instructor assist a new clicker trainer particularly until correct timing is learned.

Clicker training – a precise way of teaching our dogs positively – is a powerful tool for a thinking handler. Best of all, it is fun for all. The trainer becomes more motivated and stimulated to "train" the dog and the dog quickly becomes a highly educated Happy Dog!

In closing, I’d like to emphasize that it is important for us to recognize the various ways that our dogs (and others in our environment) learn. By recognizing the various behaviors which may or may not be interfering with what we are trying to teach, we will be better prepared to then teach what is desired with more ease and less confusion and frustration for both instructor and student. Knowing the theory behind how and why we teach our dogs a particular skill empowers the trainer and ultimately benefits our companions.

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