How does clicker training work? I recently came across a question from a fellow dog parent wondering necessarily the same thing. There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding clicker training basics, so I thought it was time to talk about it. First, let’s take a look at the original question. It offers great insight into why clicker training is so confusing and the topic of such debate.
How do you all feel about the whole “click but no treat” thing? I was always taught that every click should be followed with a treat (not a reward, a treat). I then saw videos where they used markers like “good dog!” that could mean some reward (treat, attention, or toys) in case you were somewhere but didn’t have food with you. But sometimes I’ll read something explaining a technique, and it will say to click but not a reward. I thought this was a little deceptive at first, but then I read [an] article talking about the value of anticipation versus the actual reward. How do you all feel about it? It’s an interesting thought, and I was wondering if perhaps a click without a reward once every great while wouldn’t be terrible. But then again I wouldn’t want to devalue the click, nor would I want to do that if there is no real benefit to only clicking.
Training a dog is one of those subjects that people have strong opinions about. People are creatures of habit, and when they find something that works, they rarely deviate from that. Unfortunately, what happens is that people find different ways to do the same thing effectively. And thus, we have the great click debate. It’s an ongoing point of contention between trainers when it comes to training a dog.
What is the Click Debate
The click debate is an ongoing point of discussion between trainers regarding following clicks with a reward. Some trainers say that every single click should be followed with a treat. Some coaches say that no treats are needed at all. It’s something that’s been hotly debated for a very long time and will probably continue to be debated.
How Does Clicker Training Work?
For those, you who are unfamiliar with it, let me give you a brief overview of click training. Click training is a method of training a dog that involves using a clicker to be a sort of marker that lets the dog know it’s time for a command. This form of training is used for everything from potty training to service animal training to police dog training.
Why the Debate
The clicker training debate isn’t about the click method itself. It’s about what follows. Proponents of following every click with a treat say that clicking and following up with a treat sets the dog up for the command and then immediately rewards the commands. These trainers also say that is a dog owner’s responsibility to always have treats on hand in any situation.
Proponents of click with no treat say that training a dog is just as easy without treats. They contend that rewarding the dog with lots of physical and vocal affection works just as well and does away with the need to have treats on hand at all times.
There’s even a third group that promotes a combination of the above methods when training a dog, meaning that the dog may or may not get a treat. I’m of the opinion that while this method might work for some, it is probably much more challenging because it sends the dogs mixed signals.
Training a Dog is all About Consistency
To me, the click debate is a little bit silly. Whether you use the click plus treat method, the click plus affection method, or something else entirely, training a dog is all about consistency, not about the method. My only caveat to that is that you should never train a dog using negative reinforcement. After that, if you find something that works, go with. Consistency is the key.