By Marika Bell, Director of Behavior & Training
Animals learn by association. They anticipate a positive outcome by remembering positive experiences. Association is at the core of clicker training and the primary reason I use the clicker method for dogs.
We begin to teach dogs by positively associating the sound of the clicker with a good experience or motivation. In doggie language that means, “I hear click, I get treat!” Because clicks make the same sound every time, dogs learn association easier and quicker, as oppose to the human voice that changes when you are excited, angry, upset, or distracted. We use treats, because they are easier to deliver than games or petting. Treats are the most useful primary reinforcers for training, because they are a source of food!
Once Fido understands the click-equals-treat association, he can be taught to control when the click happens through his behavior. Once dogs make this cognitive leap, taking anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes, more advanced training can begin. He knows that he can get you to click and treat by responding to the cues you have taught him.
The whole experience should be fun in order for dogs to reach full training potential. If learning isn’t fun, the dog will dislike the “school” experience, much the same way that children dislike being scolded by their teachers. Keep it fun and engaging, and your dog will learn quickly and eagerly.