Pros and cons of clicker training

Let’s discuss the pros and cons or benefits and limitations of Clicker Training. Although the clicker training concept is by far the best animal training concept available, still there are some limitations to it, just as with anything. There are many explanations worldwide on how to use a clicker; some dog trainers use it differently than others. That alone is confusing and in some way misleading. In most cases it is not the clicker; it is the concept behind it; the human factor that causes the confusion.

What are you clicking for?

The first thing is to address one of the basic misunderstandings about the clicker training concept. Many people (including dog trainers) are convinced that the more clicking, the better; often we actually tend to slow down the results with this approach. In fact, dogs are so intelligent and forgiving that in most cases they somehow end up cluing into what our original intention was, but keep in mind that you can make mistake with the simple exercises and maybe get away with them, but the harder the exercise gets, the more you will see the fruit of your labor, which in many cases may be far away from the intended behaviors, if you have been sliding by with mistakes.

TIP: With simple tasks you may get away with mistakes, but the more complicated the tasks become, the more “advanced” you have to be. Bob Bailey quoted this perfectly by saying, “What you click for is what you get”. Make sure to learn the theoretical part in order to have a good understanding of timing, criteria, rate of reinforcement, environmental stressors, etc. You need to know what you are clicking for.

We often have an “action plan” of how to shape a behavior but we forget the main factor; that it is completely up to the dog to draw a conclusion on which behavior he is getting the reward for and this can find itself on either side of the pros and cons list for any form of training.

For example: I may go in with the idea that I’m clicking for my dog staying in the sitting position. But my dog is preoccupied by the environment, so in this case, I may click as much as I want but it is a big probability that my dog will connect my clicking with something completely unrelated to the behavior that I was clicking for. My dog may be associating something in his distracting environment to the click and subsequently, the reward.

As mentioned on the clicker/marker training page; even Dr. Pavlov encountered issues when doing his first tests with dogs on the subject of classical conditioning. The dogs had difficulty concentrating in the presence of his assistants; therefore he removed the assistants and installed automatic feeders instead.

Dogs are very environmentally-sensitive animals, therefore you will often find yourself in need of arranging the environment in order to minimize the fallout of this sensitivity. Just like with corrections, if done incorrectly, your clicker training attempts may end up creating superstitious behaviors.

Benefits and Limitations (Pros and Cons) of Clicker training

The benefits of clicker training (or marker training) are huge and many.

  • Your dog is working in a highly rewarding atmosphere which encourages him to explore and try new things.
  • You can do several repetitions of the same behavior without losing the dog’s interest or affecting his motivation.
  • Training sessions can last longer with reward-based training programs than other types of trainings that are not reward-based.
  • Animals learn quickly because the clicker or marker allows for perfect timing which explains to your dog in black and white, what was expected and for which behavior he is getting rewarded for, etc.
  • This is one of the best training concepts to build a great relationship between the dog and his handler.
The most common limitations of clicker training (or marker training) include;
  • It is a reward-based concept, so if you are dealing with a dog that has a low food or toy drive and there is nothing valuable enough to use as a reward, you may have more difficulties training your dog.
  • If the clicker training (or marker training) is not done properly, especially the transition from continuous to variable and random reinforcement, or if the dog has a lower drive for the reward, etc. than learned behaviors are more prone to extinction without the prolonged presence of the reward.
  • Clicker training (or marker training) does require a lot of knowledge and practice. It mostly depends what you are up to. With basic exercises you can get away with not such great timing, however with more advanced exercises it is important that you have a good eye-hand coordination.

There are many more things to be mentioned on both the pros and cons lists, but these are just the most common ones.

Clicker vs. Marker training concept

There are different tools that can be used instead of a clicker but that can be used in the same fashion. For example, in the dolphin and other marine mammal training world, animal trainers often use whistles (the sound of the whistle travels much better through water than the sound of a clicker), whistles are also often used for bird training. However, despite the convenience of the clicker, there is also a way that you can use your own voice in the same fashion.

There is a big controversy over which one is better, a clicker or a verbal marker, or more precisely, the argument is usually based upon why the clicker is “better” than the verbal marker, but this is often just a matter of opinion and many people also like to weigh out the pros and cons of each of these options. Each form, either a clicker or a verbal marker has its own benefits and purposes, below, I will discuss some of these points so that you can arm yourself with the knowledge to choose what option best suits your own individual needs.

Clicker Training vs Marker Training

Clicker training and marker training have the same principle, the only difference is that you can use a clicker, or you can select a verbal marker, which is a specific word (some of the most common ones are “click”, “yes”, “free”, etc.) and use that word instead of clicking. You can use any word that you choose as your marker, as long as the word is short, sharp and not something that will be used in everyday conversation. It is important that this word only be used to mark a behavior for your dog, just as you would with the clicker.

There are big disagreements in dog training circles as to which one to use, some claim that clicker training (with a clicker) produces faster and better results, and some think that marker training (using a verbal marker) is a better option.

Again, this is a personal choice. I have used both and continue to use both, as I recognize the pros and cons of both, and the results are the same. It all comes down to what you are more comfortable with. It could also depend upon what you are training for (this list of pros and cons may help you determine if this training concept is the best option for you or not).

For example, I normally train my dogs with both tools, with a marker and a clicker. Then I attach a certain reaction (emotional response) from the dog to the verbal marker so that he delivers a highly motivated response, and then I use this marker in my dog obedience training or other dog training. Then, I use the clicker if I need to shape certain behaviors when I don’t want my dog to become overexcited and over stimulated by the marker, but instead I want him to stay calm and focused on the task we are performing.

Throughout this website, I will refer to both clicker training and marker training, interchangeably. As mentioned, the majority of dog owners end up training just basic commands in which case both the clicker or the marker training concepts will suite you just fine. This pros and cons list has been compiled so that you can be informed of the benefits and limitations that this training concept consists of. In the end, it is totally about the dog handler/owner and what he/she is more comfortable with.

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