3. The Clicking Sound.
In the video above, when the machine (called a magazine) released a pellet of food, it made a distinct clicking sound. Skinner watched the pigeon and when it moved its head ever so slightly in the correct direction, he pressed a button, the magazine made a clicking sound and the food was released
4. The Click of the Magazine
Skinner observed that the click of the magazine helped to alert the pigeon that a reward was coming. Because the clicking sound was repeatedly paired with the dispensing of a pellet of food, the click itself became a reward (or more technically speaking) a conditioned reinforcing stimulus. Skinner also called the clicking sound a secondary reinforcer. In Skinner's article, he referred to a cricket -- a toy that made a clicking sound when you pressed it. Toy crickets were banned because they had a sharp metal edge that could cut the little darlings who played with them. But later these toys were redesigned made safer and called "clickers."
5. Primary reinforcer. The primary reinforcer is the food pellet in most of Skinner's experiments. A primary reinforcer is something that an animal naturally loves and is willing to work for without any prior conditioning. Other primary reinforcers for dogs include: water, goat milk, toys, plastic bags, plastic bottles, and chance to run. A primary reinforcer does not need to be conditioned, it is something that a dog craves to do or have from birth or shortly after.
6. Why use a clicker?
Skinner advocated the use of a clicker as a secondary because of his initial experience with the clicking sound of food dispensing magazine in the laboratory -- see the rare film below from 1971! Skinner advocated a clicker also because the clicking sound is very unique and consistent.
Also because -- and this is very important -- the sound can be emitted immediately.
If you've got a clicker handy, you can click the moment a dog starts to show the tiniest movement toward the behavior you would like to see. And once conditioned, it is a clear unmistakable signal to your pooch.
Skinner asserted in his Scientific American article that...
...the delay of even one second in giving a reinforcer lessens the effectiveness of a reinforcer considerably.
After clicking at the proper precise moment, you can then offer the dog a treat and your timing of the treat delivery does not have to be immediate.
7. Using a Clicker in Dog Training.
When using a clicker to do dog training, we must first establish the sound of the clicker as a secondary reinforcer. This is sometimes called "charging the clicker." But that way of speaking about the process does not clearly describe what is happening. It is better to say we need to condition the clicker to be a secondary reinforcer by repeatedly pairing it with a primary reinforcer.
8. Conditioning the Clicker. Turning the clicking sound into a secondary reinforcer is easy to do in a short while. Here's how:
At a time when your pooch is quite hungry. prepare about 30 or so tiny treats -- so tiny that all of them will not satisfy your doggy's hunger. Sound the clicker and immediately toss a tiny bit of sustenance or scrap of healthy food for your loved one.
Wait for about 30 seconds. Then toss another treat and immediately sound the "cricket" with no preparatory movements like reaching for a treat. You toss the treat because you want to make sure your doggy will be interested enough to go for it. If he doesn't go for it, he may not be hungry. Try again later or find something else like, say, a piece of cheese. (Momo loves cheese.)
Now your little darling doggy may show clear begging behavior. She may watch you eagerly, which is fine. But if she bark or maybe pounces on you, you must stop this conduct, on the grounds that it will meddle with your training. Stop the behavior simply by ignoring it and turning away from your best friend until she gives up her arrogant demands.
Never click or give a treat when your lovely, caring canine is confronting you. Hold up until she backs off, then click and treat. Your conditioned reinforcer is working when your doggy turns quickly and approaches the spot where you tossed the nourishment.
Test this a few times. Wait until your baby is in an unusual position, then click and treat. Verify that your little (or not so little) baby and best friend quickly approaches the nourishment! -- If she does not, wait a while longer and try again.
10. Add a verbal reinforcer.
Besides clicking I suggest you also say "Yes!" (or another chosen word) when you give your dog a tiny, tiny treat. Try to say "yes" in a clear consistent manner with a sharp staccato voice. Again, make the treats so tiny that giving your dog 30 of them will not cause satiation. I think pellets of Taste of the Wild Dog food is excellent for this purpose.
You want your honey to be hungry and eager to get the treats. By paring "Yes" (or another chosen word) to the primary reinforcer, you are also setting up the word to have the same power as a clicker!
The clicking sound is somewhat better than the word "Yes" because it is more distinct and consistent. However, the disadvantage of the clicker is that often you may not have one handy when you need it. And sometimes, as in agility training, you need both hands free. And in agility trials you are forbidden from using any training aids, including a clicker.
But the clicker is a great thing to use at first
because just holding it in your hand gives you a reminder to look for good behavior. The clicker reminds YOU to use a positive approach and to take small steps to perfection in your training.
Once your dog is conditioned to the clicker and "yes," you can begin a training exercise. (It's actually training for you as well as for your dog.)
11. Shaping a Behavior.
Once you have setup the clicking sound and the word "Yes" as a conditioned secondary reinforcer, try using it to shape a behavior. When you shape a behavior, it's kind of like sculpting. You don't start with a finished beautiful statute. Instead, you mold the image gradually. So when shaping a behavior you start rewarding the tiniest approximation of the desired behavior. (continued in right column above -- see #12.)