Reward-Based Aversive-Free Training
All training and behaviour modification offered by Cowichan Canine is based on the latest published science in learning theory and its practical applications. Science has concluded that the use of aversives is not conducive to long-term, reliable results. Indeed, the fall-out from such training can be severe even when only mild aversives are used. Therefore, we do not use pain, fear and other intimidation techniques, such as domination or alpha rolls, or any implements that inflict these, such as choke chains, pinch collars, electric shock collars, leash jerks, etc.
Instead, we use reward-based training. We set up the training situation so as to make both owner and dog successful – we start each dog & handler team at the level where they are successful and build from there, in small enough steps that we get continued success.
This way, we build up a strong "reinforcement history", which in turn leads to very high reliability of behaviour. We can then quickly wean the rewards and we are left with a very willing dog and a highly reliable behaviour – IF the student has followed the instructions and done the homework properly!
Rewards are not bribes!
Rewards are given AFTER the learner (the dog) has performed the behaviour we want. That is one of the differences between correctly applied Positive Reinforcement training and simple lure-reward training, or ‘training with treats’.
Positive Reinforcement Training
This method of training as has been used to train many thousands of animals for the US National Defense since the second world war and cold war era. It is commonly used to train dolphins for shows as well as the US Navy Marine Mammal Program, zoo keepers use it to train animals for housekeeping and medical procedures, It is used for guide dogs and other service dogs, and increasing numbers of police departments around the world are turning away from force-based training to positive reinforcement and clicker training.
With humans, its application is known as TAGteach (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) and it has applications in fields as varied as performance sports and teaching life skills to special needs children.
In dog training, positive reinforcement training commonly uses a reward marker known as a "clicker". Hence, the training is known as “clicker training”. This name can be a little misleading, as the training has more to do with the rules of application than with the little plastic noise maker.
The purpose of the clicker is to mark the behaviour that we reward, thus making it easier for the dog to understand WHY he gets rewarded. The sound of the click also “bridges” the time between the behaviour and the delivery of the treat and takes a lot of the stress out of the training.
The use of a clicker in our classes is recommended, but not compulsory. Personally, I often use a ‘mouth click’, like what people use when they want to encourage a horse to move. A verbal marker, like “Yes!” or “Good Dog!” will work, too, although words are commonly not as effective as markers as other more distinct noises are.
The significance of Clicker Training does not lie in the clicker itself, but in the correct application of the science of the Law of Effect and Operant Conditioning, more specifically Positive Reinforcement.
Consequently, just because somebody uses a clicker, this does not mean that they use ‘Clicker Training’.
Clicker Training is not about the noise maker – it is all about the correct application of aversive-free training and behaviour modification and the science behind it.
Why should I use a clicker?
It has been demonstrated that the use of a non-verbal reward marker can speed up learning by up to 30% (see below) compared to using a verbal marker (like “Yes!” or “Good Dog!”).
“Data from the present study provide strong evidence that the rate of novel behavior acquisition is significantly faster for dogs trained with the clicker bridging stimulus in comparison to dogs trained with the verbal word “good.” Clicker dogs learned the target behavior on average of 20 minutes faster than verbal dogs and required an average of 38 fewer primary reinforcements. Furthermore, this study is the first demonstration of the significant effect of the clicker in facilitating learning of each task within a single behavior. As behaviors are often composed of multiple tasks, the clicker’s impact is considerable not only at the initiation of training, but also in the ease with which animals learn the new tasks that comprise a single, final behavior.”
You can download the full text of this published study here:
If knowing this and you still prefer to use a verbal reward marker, such as “Yes!” or “Good Dog!”, then that is perfectly fine.
Whatever kind of marker you use, the method we use in class is still called Clicker Training!