I do use the clicker, at times, and have taught with it. This is how I started out. All my human students learned how to use the clicker to teach their dogs, and all the dogs learned how to respond to it. In my F&Q’s there is a brief paragraph on why I don’t use the clicker. But the underlying reason was and is far more personal.
I should preface this: The clicker can be a wonderful tool when people know how to use it.
When I started out (as a newbie trainer) using the clicker was ‘synonymous’ with positive dog training. Only positive trainers used clickers, so by way of reason, only clicker trainers were positive. This concept intentionally or unintentionally was spoken and unspoken by many in dog training circles.
Then there was “Jake.”
My awakening occurred when I taught one of my dog training classes in 2003. Teaching was phenomenal. I had a small room and we spent time outdoors. I taught with the clicker. The classes were fun and the dogs were great. The human students from these classes have still stayed in touch with me. The dogs were happy and they had off-leash play time in the small room. Everyone got along and had fun. And, I had a big box of clickers.
Then, there was ‘Jake.’ He was a foster dog and his ‘foster mom’ took him to my dog training classes free of charge. It was an arrangement I worked out with the rescue organization. Jake was beautiful —a gentle large shepherd, Aussie mix with medium to long light and chocolate brown fur. He was extremely intelligent, a quick learner, and the star of the class. He was a sponge, and thrived and blossomed with positive reinforcement.
One day, an elderly gentlemen came to watch Jake. The next two following weeks, Jake did not appear in my classes. Since this was approximately 16 years ago, my memory of exact time-lines may be flawed. But, after Jake did not come to the second class, I inquired about why he wasn’t in classes.
Jake had been adopted, and the rescue organization had sent Jake to his ‘adoptive’ home along with the dog training clicker. Instead of feeling happy, I had an uneasy feeling. I was a bit surprised and concerned that the rescue had sent Jake to an adopter with the clicker, but the adopter never met with me to learn how to use it, nor brought Jake to any of my classes.
Long story shortened, Jake ran away from the people who adopted him. As it turned out, his adopters ended up using the clicker as a ‘punishment’ along with the command ‘No.’ Jake was, subsequently, passed between family members and ‘punished’ with the clicker. Other than he was found and sent back, I never heard what happened to him. I try not to think about it, as I feel a bit sick to my stomach and my eyes can get teary when I do.
Because of Jake, from that moment on, I stopped teaching dog training classes with the clicker as standard operating procedure. I realized that the clicker wasn’t synonymous with positive dog training and that there was no ‘magic’ in it — as some are led, or seem, to believe. It’s just a tool. In the wrong hands, or in inept hands, it can be problematic, stress and confuse dogs, and increase behavioral problems. Since Jake, I’ve seen it used, too many times, incorrectly.
The ‘clicker makes it quicker’ — yes, it does and it can. But only for those who know how to use it. There is a learning curve to using the clicker. It can be cumbersome for people to learn and use, and it is really no different than using your voice as verbal marker.
Do I still use the clicker? Yes, at times. But only for clients who already know to how teach their dogs and understand how their dogs learn. It’s good for tricks and great for shaping. I recently taught a long term client with a newly adopted coonhound how to use it, specifically to enhance her timing, and she felt it really helped her.
But, the clicker is not synonymous with positive. In the wrong hands, it can be very damaging. I love Jake, and although it was 16 years ago, I still think of him to this day. It was Jake who changed my training methodology, and shaped the way I resolve canine behavioral problems and teach both people and dogs.
© 2019 Alana Stevenson. All Rights Reserved.