If you’re on this website, and reading this article, you are probably interested in clicker training—and for good reason. The clicker is a wonderful tool. It lets us communicate more clearly with other species (as well as with our own, in some cases). It helps us focus on the behavior we want to see. It also enables the training of behaviors that would be extremely difficult, or even impossible, to train in any other way.
Yes, it is charming; but it is also rather sad. We have been training animals for thousands of years, and we almost never ask them to DO this! To bring their own abilities to the table. To think. If you'll excuse the expression. ((laughter)).
Behavior analysis is the science that underlies the technology of reinforcement training. Applications of behavior analysis include performance management, in industry and business; precision teaching, in schools; behavior modification, in clinical practice; and clicker training. The annual meeting draws some 2000 psychologists, from around the world. The speech reproduced here was given as part of the opening ceremonies. Karen Pryor's address at the Animal Behavior Society convention in Chicago, May 1997
My two dogs and I were out for a walk one morning, enjoying the fresh air and the exercise. Mokie and Monte walked next to me with their tails wagging happily. They were probably laughing at me as I hummed along with my iPod.
About three blocks away, a dog rounded the corner and began walking toward us. Despite Monte's full-body hackling, despite his rigid and tense body posture, and a deep, low, rumbling growl, I quietly told him what a good boy he was. I began shoving meatballs, liverwurst, and smoked Gouda into his large jaws at a rapid pace, creating as much distance as possible between the approaching dog and the three of us. I continued to feed Monte until the dog was out of sight, at which time the tasty treats disappeared back into the abyss of my faithful treat bag.
Click and create
One subject that crops up frequently in training circles is the side effects of various training techniques. We caution against the harmful fallout of punishment-based methods. We debate the relative merits of luring, shaping, and capturing. We examine studies that compare the rate of behavior acquisition using various marker signals. And, of course, we love to talk about the added benefits of clicker training—engaging the dog's mind, the respondent conditioning of a positive emotional state, the fostering of creativity in both trainer and trainee.