One of the things I am asked about by newcomers to our program is why we do not use a clicker very much. After-all, my website is www.clickerdogs.com you know! Since I registered that website ten or more years ago my training has evolved quite a bit. Possibly if I had register my website today it would be called www.clicker-only-when-needed–dogs.com.
Although almost everything my dogs are taught is through shaping I use other conditioned reinforcers more than a clicker. I will say “yes” (hence the name of my business) or “good” or “excellent” or “supa” or any number of words. Other times I may say nothing and just chuck the food at the dog while she is in the midst of a response. Yes I still use a clicker, yes I see it as a valuable tool but like any tool you can dull it’s effectiveness if you use it improperly. Take a brand new knife and use it to cut up an old pair of sneakers then a few beer cans and soon you will left without an edge, the tool will become less effective when you really want to depend on it.
In addition to potentially dulling its effectiveness I have also come to realize that each tool in the tool box has a specific use and your job will take longer if you reach for the wrong tool. You won’t get far trying to loosen a bolt with a hammer but also you will have little success trying to drive a nail with a socket wrench.
Okay I am having fun with these analogies so here I go; imagine you where going into have brain surgery tomorrow, the neurosurgeon has the choice of many tools to cut into your noggin however you would prefer he tinkered on your gray matter with the delicate precision of a lazer or a broad scope of a melon baller? Both would work to cut into your brain however one is intrinsically a better choice than the other.
To me a clicker has the precision of a lazer. It is deadly accurate as an auditorial marker for the dog. There are some skills I will train that require such accuracy, for those I will reach for a clicker. Targeting with one rear paw for example would move along faster with a clicker. I had to teach Twister to “pray” for a movie years ago (with Molly Shannon if I may name drop:)). This trick would have been far, far more difficult to train without the precision of a clicker.
But very few skills require such accuracy and I have found that that much precision in the hands of someone that has yet to learn how to control their aim (when to click and for what) can create havoc and delay learning for the dog. I personally feel I am not a good enough dog trainer to use a clicker for everything I teach my dog. I did that with Buzz. Just about everything I shaped I taught him with a clicker. I can write an entire full blog post with what that go me. Some good but a lot of inefficiency.
Next time I will share with you how I have screwed up some of my dogs in the past by using a clicker inappropriately.
Today I am grateful to be home after a week away, a lot of catching up to do before our four day Grad-skills camp starts this Friday!