Are You Over-Using Your Clicker?

Aidan Bindoff

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Browsing the various internet email lists for clicker training, you might get the idea that the clicker is the most over-used tool in clicker training! Let's examine that more closely. . .

"Over-used" suggests that something is used more often that it should be. What might be the problem with this?

I guess your clicker might physically wear-out and stop working. This surely isn't a big deal though, you can always get a new clicker for a couple of dollars.

Maybe the value of the click itself is diminished by over-use? Evidence would suggest that, so long as the click is always followed by a primary reinforcer, the more often a clicker is used, the more value it has. I would caution that sloppy timing can confuse some dogs and de-value the clicker as a training tool, but providing that your timing is good (practise without a dog until it is) and that you follow up promptly with a variety of primary reinforcers, your clicker should only gain value with repeated use.

Accordingly, following up with an aversive (intentionally or otherwise), or failing to follow up with a primary reinforcer will make your clicker less effective.

So maybe the problem is that the clicker is used when it isn't necessary to use a clicker? The clicker gives you a very precise means of marking tiny little pieces of behaviour. Not all behaviours we wish to reinforce are tiny. Stays are a good example. Our criteria might be that our dog stays sitting for 20 seconds. If we click, we really aren't adding any useful information. We might as well just toss a treat or a ball.

On the other hand, let's imagine our dog is sitting nicely for 20 seconds so we click and treat. Unfortunately, at the precise moment that we clicked, our dog raised his paw. . .

Of course, solving this problem would be pretty straightforward. Simply stopping clicking the resultant paw raises and click only when the paw is on the ground.

So are clickers over-used? Yes, clickers are sometimes used where they don't provide a clear benefit, but I wouldn't get too hung up about it. Make your own choices, but make sure you always use a clicker when you need accurate timing. Nothing else comes close for effectiveness, convenience and wide availability.

Aidan Bindoff is Editor of , a free resource for people training their own dog. Each edition is packed with helpful tips for training your dog using the latest pet-friendly methods that work fast and don't require a degree in animal behavior to use.

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