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Just How Good ARE You? Clicker Trainers' Testing Program

Kay Laurence, founder of the British clicker company Learning About Dogs and the magazine Teaching Dogs, has pioneered a new way of assessing the clicker skills of individual trainers. The program tests the trainer's abilities, not the dog's performance. The test is valuable not so much as a measure of achievement but as a clear-cut way of finding out what you know and what you still need to find out, a very difficult thing to judge for oneself. Karen witnessed some of the first tests in England (see Letter from Karen, November 2003.) Assessment testing has begun in the US and the UK. The program will be refined as it develops, but here is the current description.

Competency Assessment Program (CAP)

Clicker Training is a fast growing teaching method that has evolved into thousands of different classes and interests. Essentially the definition of a "clicker trainer" is a person who trains using a clicker. Competency is not directly measurable by the description; some clicker trainers are reaching for the sky and able to achieve astonishing results, while some clicker trainers are simply adding the clicker to an existing program of training, which may or may not be coercive.

I believe the true power of clicker training is seeded in allowing the dog to self teach and, in particular, through the method of capturing the behavior. The canine ownership of the learning results in very secure cue association and reliability of quality. The dog truly becomes involved in the learning process, becomes highly motivated, and teaches us poor humans a thing or two about learning!

To gain access to this powerful method the teacher needs to be skilled, very self aware, observant, and able to analyze and adjust the teaching to suit that particular dog at that particular time. As they develop their skills their understanding of the process deepens and they are able to transfer the learning to other animals, other fields of interest. They have genuinely learned to communicate with another species through skilled use of the clicker.

The Competency Assesement Program (CAP) has been designed to serve two purposes:

  1. to provide a clear pathway, with marked steps for learners to gain their skill, knowledge and understanding
  2. to provide a certification system validating the competency of clicker trainers

The assessment system is not intended to highlight what a person has not achieved, but what a person has accomplished and give confidence at their achieved level.

Assessment will be given at three grades:

  1. Pass. Demonstrates some skill, knowledge, and understanding, but many areas in need of further development
  2. Merit. Demonstrates good skill, knowledge, and understanding, some areas in need of further development
  3. Distinction. Demonstrates excellent skill, knowledge, and understanding, in need of little, or no further development

Achievement in the lower level with Merit or above is required to progress. Assessors will need Distinction in the higher class to assess, i.e. Distinction in Level 2 to assess Level 1.

Assessment for each level will take approximately 15-20 minutes. The assessor will be looking at the process of clicker training through the trainer's technique, and ability to be flexible and meet the needs of the dog, and develop positive learning experience for the dog and communicate effectively.

At no time will the dog be under test

The trainer will be expected to pre-select the exercises to suit the dog and the situation of the test.

Foundation Level 1

This level is assessing the basic handling skills of the rewards, clicker, lure, and target stick/hand. The trainer's ability to communication with the dog without coercion, and their observation and decision making skills will also be assessed. Trainers would be expected to be able to add cues, names, and signals to behaviors and have shaped and lured simple behaviors.

Novice Level 2

This level is assessing the trainer's ability to secure a solid foundation in achieving a consistent quality and reliability to cue. So often trainers are captured by the brilliance and creativity of dogs that they forge ahead shaping complex behaviors without the knowledge and skills to make the behaviors reliable in quality and reliable to their cue. Anywhere, anytime, any place. This teacher skill is essential to obtain the full value and strength of clicker training.

Shaping skills with high frequency reward rate will be observed, as will the ability to communicate unsuccessful behaviors, fading the lure and target stick, developing the dog's physical fluency through repetitive exercises, and variable duration of a behavior.

Achieving Foundation and Novice level is quite sufficient for most dog owners. They will be able to train the basic behaviors required of society with reliability in a range of situations. Those wishing to enter sports, train dogs for work, or develop behavior modification programs should follow the curriculum and be assessed at Intermediate and Advanced Levels.

Intermediate Level 3

The assessor will be looking for a broad range of captured behaviors and complex exercises derived from chaining, merging, and sequencing. Precision shaping skills will be observed with multiple targeting. Trainers will need to demonstrate affecting the behavior through varying the the timing of the click, using different reward ratios and rewards. Evidence of data collection and analysis will be reviewed.

Advanced Level 4

Trainers may be assessed in the field of behavior modification or high level performance and working dogs.

Trainers at this level will need to be able to make significant behavioral changes through the use of the clicker, with case history or video evidence. Trainers will need to be able to plan to develop specific learning programs in dogs with learning difficulties and be be familiar with teaching emotional control, extinguishing, and replacing behaviors.


Trainers should be able to demonstrate a high quality performance or demonstration with durability. Trainers will need to be able to plan to develop a specific learning program for dogs in advanced performance work or working dogs.

Taking the test

Opportunities will be organized to allow people to take the test. The first "open" tests will be at the Clicker Conference 2003. Assessment days will be held throughout the year as advertised in Teaching Dogs Magazine or on this website. The cost per test will be in the region of £7-£10, depending on the cost of the venue.

Clubs, classes, and events will be able to host the CAPs and trainers will also be able to take the test by video. Assessors for all levels will be required to shadow assess to qualify.

Trainers may take any assessment as many times as they wish until a Distinction is achieved. Trainers may review with the assessor their grades and discuss areas in need of improvement.

About the author
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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.


I am delighted to be a CAP2 clicker training. I have visited Learning About Dogs many times and the work they do is invaluable.

Tara Choules

Dog Training

I think we need to have this everywhere!! With all aspects of dog training including agility, police dogs, positive training and traditional training! I think dog training should be regulated and people put through their paces before they can call themselves dog trainers.

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