Short Answer: Clicker Training is a positive reinforcement training method used by animal behaviorists and pet parents to encourage certain behaviors.
Long Answer: Clicker Training is a form of operant conditioning. The system uses a conditioned reinforcer, which is the clicker. A conditioned reinforcer is a previously neutral stimulus (the sound of a click) that is paired with a primary reinforcer (treats). By doing so (Charging the clicker) The Conditioned reinforcer (Clicker) acquires the same reinforcement properties associated with the primary reinforcer (Treats).
Probably you didn’t come for a description of clicker training so let me break it down for you into 4 parts:
- Origins of Clicker Training
- What’s Clicker Training Used For
- What’s a Clicker
- What’s clicker training
When Was Clicker Training Invented?
B.F. Skinner and two of his students first identified and described the principles of Operant Conditioning.
They believed that traditional animal training was being needlessly hindered because methods of praise and reward then in use did not inform the animal of success with enough promptness.
For instance, imagine that you are trying to train your pet to sit and when they do you reach out to them to pet them or deliver a treat. They get excited, they stand up or move, then you praise them.
The cat or the rabbit or the dog will not understand what you are praising them for. It will take loads of repetition for the animal to understand that it’s the sitting and not anything else that’s being rewarded.
They coined the term "bridging stimulus" in the 1940s to refer to the function of a secondary reinforcer such as a whistle or click, to mark the behavior when it happens. More on this later, but first, let’s take a quick look at how animals learn.
Check out this video from our YouTube Channel talking about it:
What’s Clicker Training Used For?
To make it very simple, because we could be talking about this for a couple days, animals have 5 big motivations:
- Eating, Not Being Eaten
- Produce Offsprings
- Get More of the Good Stuff
- Get Less of the Bad Stuff
All behavior happens because the animal is trying to fulfill one of these motivations. What’s the motivator that we have easier access to?
You said it, food is the strongest motivator!
When using operant conditioning we are going to use food as a primary reinforcer to achieve one of these 3 things:
Capturing a behavior:
Reward the animal in the act of doing a behavior we want to see more often. Behaviors that are rewarded are likely to be repeated, so eventually the animal is going to repeat the behavior.
Gradually building a new behavior by creating smaller games and rewarding each step towards the desired behavior. These are advanced tricks, I have a full video talking about it.
Using the treat as a magnet to get the animal to go towards a desired direction. Think of the carrot and the donkey.
From easier to more difficult: Capturing is the easiest form of clicker training, then Luring and finally, shaping.
How Does Clicker Training Work? Do You Need a Clicker to Train a Cat?
The basis of effective clicker training is precise timing to deliver the conditioned reinforcer at the same moment as the desired behavior is offered.
We have Primary Reinforcer (Food) and Conditioned Reinforcer (Marker)
The clicker or conditioned reinforcer is previously a neutral stimulus, meaning that there’s no perceived value.
When we pair the clicker with the food, the clicker acquires the same reinforcement properties associated with the primary reinforcer, so the click becomes a motivator on its own.
Let me give you an example of pairing the clicker with the food, or bridging stimulus:
You can’t eat money, you can’t get shelter with money. Outside society, money has no value.
Money is to humans a conditioned reinforcer. The actual paper bills are not themselves reinforcing. However, the paper bills can be used to acquire primary reinforcers such as food, water, and shelter.
Therefore, Money becomes a reinforcer on its own as a result of pairing them with the acquisition of food, water, and shelter.
What’s Clicker Training?
How do you pair the clicker with the food?
I’m glad that you asked.
The process of pairing the clicker with food is called charging the clicker. Charging the clicker is achieved by repetition. This is the first step of clicker training, you can learn the other two in this article.
Cats only learn on a relax state. If you feed your cat at the same time as you click, they are excited about the food and not building the connection between the click and the reward.
Click then Reward, Click then Reward.
After a few repetitions, the animal will understand that after a click comes a reward. An easy way to know the clicker is charged is when the animal starts looking for a treat after a click.
Can You Teach Clicker Training to Impaired or Deaf animals?
For impaired animals, a gentle pat on the shoulder or a light can be used as markers.
Can You Train Without a Clicker?
If you don’t have clickers available in your country, you can also use a word like “YES” or “GOOD” instead.
Does Clicker Training Work for Cats?
Clicker training works for cats, and it's not hard. Any animal can learn new behaviors and tricks using clicker training. We are all about training cats, even have a YouTube Channel. There are dozens of videos using this method to correct unwanted behavior, habituate cats to the carrier or walking on a leash.
Now that you know what clicker training is, check out this video to learn how to clicker train your cat and teaching them new behaviors in less than 5 minutes:
Stay Wild, Stay Safe, See You Outdoors!
Albert & Mia