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Clicker Training Comments from Wendy Jeffries


I've been reading the various posts [on the ICAT-Events Yahoo group] with great interest.  The dog world went through this discussion several years ago.  Karen Pryor is at a seminar but perhaps she will catch up and post later.  I have cut and pasted comments from several people.  I'm talking to everyone and hope to correct some typical misunderstanding about what is popularly called "Clicker Training"

<in a loud environment the noise of the clicker can be lost;>

By the time you are working your cat in public, the clicker would not be needed.  It is for exact communication in the early learning stages.  Once a cat knows the behavior, the clicker isn't at all necessary.

<the clicker can serve as an unwanted distraction in some instances>

Quite right.  "Click" ends the behavior and the animal would expect his treat.  I wouldn't click while running the agility course.  He might stop and look for his reward.

<I'm not required to have a clicker handy when perhaps not even my hands are handy!>

Good point.  That is why we start using a word as a Conditioned Reinforcement just like the clicker.  I use "YES!" as I click.  Pretty soon "Yes!" has the same communication value as a clicker.  I click with my mouth sometimes too.  Some folks have use mouth clicks completely from the beginning and report it works just fine.  Actually ANY unique event (auditory or visual) can be your Conditioned Reinforcement.  It doesn't have to be a clicker.  Years ago, you never heard of Clicker Training but professionals were doing it.  I only heard it referred to as CR (Conditioned Reinforcement) training.  The catchy term of "Clicker" unfortunately caught on and people fixate on the mechanical clicker when it really could be anything.  I the past 35 years I have used a whistle, an electronic tone, visually shoving food at the animal, "YES!"  "GOOD"  clickers, a flash light and hand signals from big and obvious to tiny and only seen by the performer.  I've probably forgotten a few too.

<I find that by using the clicker she masters a trick faster because she knows what I am wanting her to do but you have to provide a command or gesture to get her do something.  Personally I prefer hand signals and think Dakota prefers them as well.>

This sounds like someone is using the clicker incorrectly. " The clicker is not a remote control,"  I tell the guys in dog obedience classes. :>)  It does not tell the animal to do anything.  Granted a clicker savvy student may start trying lots of behavior when he sees one in your hand, but you decide what behavior you are working on in that session.  You start rewarding a sit-up, for instance.  When the cat figures out only sit-ups are being rewarded he will repeat it frequently.  THEN you start adding the cue, verbal or visual, just as he is about to offer another sit-up.  After 10 to 20 of those cue->behavior->Click and treat, I find cats know the meaning of the cue.

<She was in another room when I started to use it.  She came flying into the room and jumped up next to the treat jar.  Apparently she has not forgotten what the clicker means.  Of course I had to give her a treat.  Guess it is a good way of calling her next time I get laryngitis.>

If your cat's life depends on it, by all means use the clicker to call your cat in an emergency.  BUT don't get in the habit of using a clicker to call your cats.  For instance your cat is tearing up a roll of toilet paper, so you hit the clicker to make her stop and come to you.   Remember, the cat thinks "Click" means you are saying, "PERFECT! You did the behavior correctly and will now be rewarded."  The cat will tend to repeat the behavior of tearing up the toilet paper.  Oops.  Don't use the clicker to call your cat folks. LOL

<You state that "the clicker is the fastest way to teach something" but this is YOUR OWN view and not the result of scientific study on the fastest way to teach cats to perform a behavior. The fastest way--and this is for all mammals--is a conditioned response. The actual manner this is achieved is not specific to either clicker, hand, or voice, as long as a food reward (or something else highly desirable) is offered for successful completion.>

I don't think this writer meant conditioned response in the scientific meaning of Operant Conditioning.  That would be like Pavlov's dog salivating when he hears the bell.  That is Classical Conditioning not Operant Conditioning...but I don't want to bore folks with scientific mumbo jumbo.

I'd say the 'fastest way' depends on the behavior being trained.  I wonder how this writer would teach a cat to; retrieve over a jump, pick up a dropped pen and return it to your hand, or put rings on peg.  When you get into the more advanced behaviors EVERYONE uses some sort of conditioned reinforcement like a clicker or a certain word and then gives the reward.

Where clicker training excels is in teaching the cat to THINK.  They learn to experiment with lots of behaviors and then repeat the things that get a click and treat.  You develop a very smart, fast learner who enjoys figuring out the puzzle of each training session.  They don't just follow a lure or food.  They figure it out using their considerable brains.  That's great for cats who get bored sitting inside all day.

<Use of the clicker becomes a crutch when there is an ongoing reliance on it in order to perform a behavior correctly, such as a cat that will only successfully complete a learned action in the presence of the clicking sound.>

Yes.  That would be incorrect use of the clicker again.  I have seen that with professional trainers on TV.  It drives me nuts. LOL They are using the clicker as a CUE (command of come over here and do this "Click Click Click ClicK").  The click should ONLY be heard, just as the behavior is successfully completed.  If people want to run cats in agility without much training use the feather lure.  PLEASE DON'T USE THE CLICKER.  You will mislead a lot of people about clicker training.  There is so much more to be gained for the cat if you only use it as communication saying "PERFECT now you get the reward for that exact behavior you were doing when you heard the click."

<My own feeling on why it might take a cat four months to learn the "sit" command has less to do with the cat and a lot to do with the person training it!>

WOW! Well said!  Training cats is easy.  It's the people who don't get it.

Have clicker - will travel,
Wendy Jeffries
co-owner BirdClick at YahooGroups.com
Owner Cat-Clicker at YahooGroups.com


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