Clicker and Target Training

Last updated: January 24, 2013

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Animal Training and Behaviour Centre

What is a Bridge?

A Bridge is a signal that has been given reinforcing value by pairing it with a known reinforcer. You use a marker signal or bridge (the sound of the clicker or word such as ‘Yes’) to tell the animal when it’s doing the action that will be rewarded. The system was first widely used by dolphin trainers who needed a way to teach behaviour without using physical force.

Advantages of using a Bridge

Bella the dog laying on her belly, looking at the camera with RSPCA tags on her collar

Unemotional – reduces the likelihood of confusion due to voice tone. It is a distinct and consistent signal, making it easier to communicate

Can reward behaviour at the precise moment the trainer wants to reinforce

Can be used to ‘pinpoint’ a particular part of behaviour

Can be used at a distance

Charge up your Clicker

It is important to pair the sound of your clicker to a treat. Once this has been done the dog will know that a click means correct and a treat will come. No punishment or corrections are required

In traditional training, you tell an animal what to do, make that behaviour happen (using force if necessary), reward good results, and punish mistakes. In clicker training you watch for the behaviour you desire, mark it the instant it happens with a click, and reward with a treat. The treat may be food, a pat, praise, or anything else the learner enjoys. If the learner makes a mistake all you do is wait and let them try again.

Replacing the clicker with praise

Clicker trainers focus on building behaviour, not stopping behaviour. Instead of yelling at the dog for jumping up, you click and reward it for sitting. Click by click, you then “shape” longer sits, until you have the final results you desire. Once the behaviour is learned, you keep it going with praise and anything else the learner enjoys and save the clicker and treats for the next new thing you want to train.

Why does Clicker Training work?

Clicker training uses a distinct and consistent signal to mark a desired behaviour in real time and then follows that signal with a motivating reward. Because animals understand precisely which action earned the click and subsequent reward, they learn new behaviours quickly and easily.

Do I have to continue using the Clicker and Treats forever?

Clicker training is used to teach/learn new behaviours. Once the behaviour is learned the clicker isn’t required any more for the particular behaviour although praise and treats will always be appreciated. Whenever you want to train a new behaviour, or fine -tune an old behaviour, use the clicker.

My dog isn’t food motivated, what do I do?

The food rewards that you use during training should be especially yummy (for example cooked chicken, cheese or dried liver) and your dog’s meals should not immediately precede a training session. If your dog is still not interested in food rewards you may use anything else your dog loves such as playing with a tennis ball or squeaky ball. If however, your dog is still not interested it may be best to stop the training session and try again later.

Do you require a lot of experience to Clicker train successfully?

No. Clicker training is easy to learn with the right instructions. The part of clicker training that may require a little practice is timing the clicks to mark the exact behaviour you are seeking. But don’t worry if you make a mistake, clicker training is forgiving and any mistakes you may make won’t interfere with your dogs training in the long run.

When can I expect results?

We often talk about the “light bulb moment”, the time when you and your dog connect through the sound of the clicker. Teaching fun and simple behaviours like sitting and shaking hands can often be accomplished in one or two sessions. More complex behaviours can be trained one piece at a time, shaping the action over a series of sessions.

Target Training

What is Target Training?

‘Targeting’ is another training concept that aids in the conditioning of an animal. As many behaviours are complex and are therefore broken down into small steps, Targeting makes it easier to communicate the next step to the animal by having them follow a target. It is important to remember that Targets are not lures.

How do I get started?

In the beginning Target training takes advantage of the animals natural curiosity. Most dogs will sniff or even touch the palm of your hand if you hold it out to them. Simply click and reward your dog for each touch. It is important to develop duration on the hand target early into the animal’s training.

Take care not to reinforce concurrent behaviour (two behaviours occurring at the same time) for example mouthing and touching your hand.

Advantages of using a Target

  • Gives the animal a point of focus
  • Reduces error in communication, by removing the ‘guess work’
  • Allows complex behaviours to be broken down and learnt in small steps
  • Allows learning to be conducted in a consistent, positive manner

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RSPCA animal training courses are available across Australia:

  • Queensland: call the RSPCA Animal Training & Behaviour Centre for further information in regard to courses available on (07) 3426 9928.
  • Victoria: for any information on training and behaviour in Victoria call Amanda Murcutt on 92242521.
  • West Australia: call the RSPCA PawsCentral Adoption Centre for further information about courses available near you on (08) 9209-9309 or visit the RSPCA WA website.
  • NSW: Information is available on the RSPCA NSW website.
  • Australian Capital Territory: Information is available on the RSPCA ACT website.
  • South Australia: Contact information is available on the RSPCA SA website.
  • Northern Territory: Contact information is available on the RSPCA Darwin website.
  • Tasmania: Training is available at the Hobart Animal Care Centre in Mornington. Go to the RSPCA Tasmania website for further information.

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