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Training Theory

Fading the Click?

When do I fade the click? How do I fade the click? We hear those questions all the time. The smart-aleck answer is "Never." Because we don't "fade" the click. Fading means doing something smaller and smaller until a tiny version of the original stimulus will serve, or until the learner no longer needs outside help to do the behavior. We don't do that with a click; either you clicked, or you didn't. Period. The term "fading" applies to prompts and cues; not to the marker signal.

The Ethology of Clicker Training

I used to think of myself as standing perpetually on a bridge, with a foot in each camp. I used to expend a lot of time trying to talk psychologists into understanding or at least coming to watch what we were learning about the animals with their science. No luck. No luck in the other direction, either: the behavioral biologists were not much interested in training or reinforcement.

Does the Click End the Behavior?

It seems straightforward: we click to mark a desired behavior, and then we reinforce. The act of reinforcing the behavior necessitates a change in action: the horse eats the treat, the dog plays with its favorite toy, and the animal in the process of being reinforced no longer performs the behavior for which it was clicked. The click, therefore, ends the behavior. The phrase has become a widely-repeated tenet of clicker training. Yet, is it true?

Poisoning the Process

A trainer can poison the process of learning without poisoning individual cues (that is, despite using positive reinforcement exclusively). This comes about unwittingly—and ironically—because of the trainer's expertise, focus, and purposefulness.

Does the Animal Know the Behavior?

Sometimes this question is asked in a different way: Will I have to continue clicking and treating forever? In asking either question, what we really want to know is: When are we done? When can we call a behavior trained once and for all? The answer to these questions is (like most not-so-simple questions): It depends.

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