Clicker trainers use a clicker to shape a behavior – that is to say, they use the clicker to help and encourage a dog to work his own way through a behavior to the desired effect. This makes the dog responsible for his own learning. Other trainers use the clicker, but they do a lot of luring – using food or another object that the dog will follow to “walk” the dog through the behavior to the desired effect, thereby removing the need or incentive for the dog to fully engage their brain and work through the behavior themself – and just use the clicker to mark the behavior.
Clicker Training Benefits:
- Clicker trainers focus on using a clicker to shape a behavior.
- Some trainers just use clickers to mark a behavior.
- A dog who learns through shaping will learn how to problem solve and have the skills to learn future behaviors more easily.
If a trainer is doing all of the action by luring the dog to the behavior, the power of the clicker is not fully used. Luring is not bad for getting started, and just about all clicker trainers do some degree of luring, but shaping is when the clicker truly shines. If shaping isn’t part of the trainer’s repertoire, then the trainer isn’t a true clicker trainer.
I have heard people say they tried clicker training and gave it up, because the clicker didn’t help all that much. Those people likely didn’t use the clicker as a shaping tool. Dogs who are only trained through luring may learn the behaviors but do not learn how to solve problems, and therefore may have a hard time repeating the behavior when the conditions are changed. On the other hand, dogs who are taught to problem solve (“shaping”), rather than having their problems solved for them (“luring”), tend to enjoy learning more and learn more completely.
A dog who was trained using a clicker to shape his behavior is not just a well-behaved dog, but a smart, well-behaved dog who can problem solve. The ability to problem solve means that if you want to teach your dog something new, it will likely be easier. The other payoff is that your dog will work for you even when you don’t have food in your hand. Luring, in my experience, can make dogs very food-dependent, unless you are careful to wean off of the lure.
The easy way to tell a clicker trainer from a trainer who just uses a clicker is to watch who is moving more when the trainer is teaching the dog a new behavior. If the trainer is the one initiating movement, that trainer is not using the full power of clicker training. The trainer is likely one who just uses a clicker, rather than a true clicker trainer.