While I don’t always use a clicker I do always use “force free, mark and reward” as the basis for all of my training. My dogs know 2 markers from me: “Yes” or a clicker. Here are basic reminders that I tell myself at every single training session to keep me on my toes:
Reminder-“You get what you click for” Consistency and timing of your mark is everything. Once your dog understands your mark (word, click or other sound), they will know R+ is coming for the behavior that was marked. The most effective reinforcement is delivered within 3 seconds of the click or mark, and every mark or click must be consistently followed with reinforcement, even if you are wrong. So what if….
If you mark the wrong behavior by accident you must still back it up with R+. Trainers make errors, dogs don’t. It’s not the dog’s fault that you clicked/marked in error, and they will expect their reward. If this happens, just use a less valuable reinforcement with no fuss. To not R+ at all will confuse your dog and devalue your mark. Just move on and improve your timing to avoid those errors as much as possible (but it will happen to all of us on occasion!).
If you are slow on your delivery of R+, praise your dog immediately after the mark/click to keep them engaged until you deliver the treat or toy. This bridges your praise with the primary reinforcement (food or toy) and helps close that 3+ second gap to the goodies. (We all at times get our hand stuck in a pocket!)
If you are too soon with R+ and have it in view before the mark, then it becomes a distraction from the mark/click, essentially a lure and a bribe which takes the focus away from the task and distracts the dog from learning and thinking. R+ should be out of sight (pocket, bait bag, etc.) until after the click.
It’s not about the food and toys: I train with relationship being the priority and I want my dogs to enjoy training as much as anything else we do in life. I always invest myself along with any food, toys, etc. by praising, petting, or anything else that I know is reinforcing to my dog.
So in a nutshell:
- Be consistent with the mark and know what you want.
- Timing should be precise.
- If your timing is off, still R+ to be fair to your dog.
- If your R+ delivery is slow, add lots of praise in between your mark and delivery.
- If your R+ is kept in view, it can make your dog lure-dependent and distract from learning. Keep R+ out of sight until after the mark/click. (pocket, hidden bait bag, etc.)
- Remember that a “mark” is NOT the same as praise. Like food, praise is R+, and comes after the mark.
All training sessions should end on a positive note, and only you can make that happen! Happy training and train happy-or don’t train at all!