Clicker Training Terms

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Clicker Training Terms 

Aversive

Any circumstance or event that causes pain, fear, or emotional discomfort.

Back-chaining

Training the last behavior in a chain first, then training the next-to-last behavior, then the behavior before that, and so on. Back-chaining takes advantage of the Premack principle.

Balanced training

A euphemism used to describe a mix of traditional or punishment-based training and other training techniques, such as clicker training.

Behavior

Any observable action an animal does.

Behavior chain

A series of behaviors linked together in a continuous sequence by cues, and maintained by a reinforcer at the end of the chain. Each cue serves as the marker and the reinforcer for the previous behavior, and the cue for the next behavior.

Bridging stimulus

An event marker that identifies the desired response and “bridges” the time between the response and the delivery of the primary reinforcer. The clicker is a bridging stimulus.

Calming signals

Subtle body signals used by dogs to indicate stress and to avoid or diffuse confrontation and aggression.

Chain

The process of combining multiple behaviors into a continuous sequence linked together by cues, and maintained by a reinforcer at the end of the chain. Each cue serves as the marker and the reinforcer for the previous behavior, and the cue for the next behavior.

Classical conditioning

The process of associating a neutral stimulus with an involuntary response until the stimulus elicits the response.

Clicker

A toy noisemaker. Animal trainers make use of the clicker as an event marker to mark a desired response. The sound of the clicker is an excellent marker because it is unique, quick, and consistent. You can find several different types of clickers in our store.

Clicker training

Clicker training is a system of teaching that uses positive reinforcement in combination with an event marker.

Combined training

A type of training using all five principles of operant conditioning and a marker signal (clicker) to modify behavior.

Compulsion training

The traditional style of dog training, where the dog is modeled or otherwise compelled to perform the behavior and physically corrected for noncompliance.

Conditioned punisher

A conditioned stimulus that signifies that an aversive is coming. Used to deter or interrupt behavior; if the behavior halts or changes, the aversive may be avoided. For example, a trainer that says “ack” to interrupt a behavior, or the warning beep of a shock collar when a dog gets too close to the boundary of an electric fence.

Conditioned reinforcer

A neutral stimulus paired with a primary reinforcer until the neutral stimulus takes on the reinforcing properties of the primary. A clicker, after being repeatedly associated with a food treat or other reinforcer, becomes a conditioned reinforcer.

Conditioned stimulus

Any stimulus that has preceded a particular behavior or event sufficiently often to provoke awareness or response. Clicks and cues are both examples of conditioned stimulus.

Consequence

The result of an action. Consequences frequently, but not always, affect future behavior, making the behavior more or less likely to occur. The five principles of operant conditioning describe the potential results.

Continuous reinforcement

The simplest schedule of reinforcement. Every desired response is reinforced.

Correction

A euphemism for the application of a physical aversive. The aversive is intended to communicate that the dog did something wrong. In some cases, the trainer then guides the dog through the desired behavior. The application of an aversive followed by desired behavior is considered instructive, thus the euphemism ”correction.”

Counter-conditioning

Pairing one stimulus that evokes one response with another that evokes an opposite response, so that the first stimulus comes to evoke the second response. For example, a dog is afraid of men wearing hats. When a man wearing a hat approaches, the dog is repeatedly fed his favorite food. The goal is to replace the animal’s apprehension with the pleasure elicited by the food. Counter-conditioning must be done gradually, however; if the process is rushed, the favorite food may take on the fear association instead.

Criteria

The specific, trainer-defined characteristics of a desired response in a training session. The trainer clicks at the instant the animal achieves each criterion. Criteria can include not only the physical behavior but elements like latency, duration, and distance.

Crossover dog

A dog that has previously been trained by a non-clicker method and is now being clicker trained.

Crossover trainer

A trainer who previously used non-clicker methods to train animals and is now clicker training.

Cue

A stimulus that elicits a behavior. Cues may be verbal, physical (i.e., a hand signal), or environmental (i.e., a curb may become a cue to sit if the dog is always cued to sit before crossing a road).

Desensitization

The process of increasing an animal’s tolerance to a particular stimulus by gradually increasing the presence of the stimulus.

Differential reinforcement

Some responses are rewarded and others aren’t. For example, a trainer wanting tucked sits would reward tucked sits and ignore all others. Differential reinforcement is not a schedule of reinforcement.

Environmental reinforcer

Anything in the environment that your dog wants. Trainers can use access to these things as powerful reinforcers for desired behavior. For example, say your dog wants to greet an approaching dog. You can ask for a behavior and then let your dog’s compliance (or non-compliance) determine whether he gets to meet and greet.

Event marker

A signal used to mark desired behavior at the instant it occurs. The clicker is an event marker.

Extinction

The weakening of behavior through non-reinforcement or “ignoring” the behavior. In extinction, nothing is added or removed from the environment. For example, a treat lies on the other side of a fence. A dog reaches his paw under, but cannot reach the treat. Because reaching for the treat doesn’t work—because it isn’t reinforced through success—the dog will eventually quit reaching for the treat.

Extinction burst

A characteristic of extinction. If a previously reinforced behavior is not reinforced, the animal will increase the intensity or frequency of the behavior in an attempt to earn the reinforcement again. If the behavior is not reinforced it will diminish again after an extinction burst.

Fixed interval

A schedule of reinforcement in which the trainer reinforces a desired behavior after a specific period of time—for example, every minute.

Fixed ratio

A schedule of reinforcement in which the trainer reinforces a desired behavior after a specific number of responses. Two-fers and three-fers are examples of fixed ratios.

Four quadrants of operant conditioning

An incorrect reference to the commonly seen chart illustrating the concepts of reinforcement and punishment. This description is misleading in two ways. It neglects to mention extinction, and it implies that all the principles of operant conditioning are of equal value in a training program.

Habituation

The ability to get used to and stop reacting to meaningless stimuli.

Interval reinforcement

The trainer reinforces according to a time schedule. In a fixed interval, the trainer reinforces the desired response after a specific period of time—for example, every minute. In a variable interval, the trainer reinforces after varying periods of time within a certain timeframe.

Jackpot

A mega-reward given after a particularly exceptional effort.

Keep-going signal (KGS)

A signal, verbal or otherwise, given in the middle of a behavior to tell the dog he is doing the behavior correctly and should keep doing what he’s doing. Keep-going signals add an unnecessary level of complexity in training.

Latency

The time between the cue and the response. Ideally, that time is zero—or as close to immediate as possible.

Luring

A method of guiding the dog through a behavior. For example, a food lure can be used to guide a dog from a sit into a down. This is a common method of getting more complex behaviors. Lures are usually food or toys but they may also be target sticks or anything else the dog will follow. Trainers should fade the lure quickly.

Marker

A signal used to mark desired behavior at the instant it occurs. The clicker is a marker.

Negative punishment (P-)

Taking away something the animal will work for to suppress (lessen the frequency of) a behavior. For example, a dog jumps on you to get attention. By turning your back or leaving the room, you apply P- by removing the attention he wants.

Negative reinforcement (R-)

Removing something the animal will work to avoid to strengthen (increase the frequency of) a behavior. Heeling is traditionally taught through R-. The dog receives a correction when he walks anywhere except in heel position. Walking in heel position increases, because that is the only “safe” place—because the threat of correction is removed by walking there. The key to R- is that an aversive must first be applied or threatened in order for it to be removed.

Operant conditioning (OC)

The process of changing an animal’s response to a certain stimulus by manipulating the consequences that immediately follow the response. The five principles of operant conditioning were developed by B.F. Skinner. Clicker training is a subset of operant conditioning, using only positive reinforcement, extinction, and, to a lesser extent, negative punishment.

poison(ed)

No longer reinforcing for the dog.

Positive punishment (P+)

Adding something the animal will work to avoid to suppress (lessen the frequency of) a behavior. For example, jerking on the leash to stop a dog from jumping on someone is P+ used to suppress the behavior of jumping. Other common examples of P+ include yelling, nose taps, spanking, electric shock, and assorted “booby traps.”

Positive reinforcement (R+)

Adding something the animal will work for to strengthen (increase the frequency of) a behavior. For example, giving the dog a treat for sitting in order to increase the probability that the dog will sit again.

Premack principle

A theory stating that a stronger response or a preferred response will reinforce a weaker response.

Primary reinforcer

A reinforcer that the animal is born needing. Food, water, and sex are primary reinforcers.

Proofing

Teaching your dog to perform a behavior in the presence of distractions.

Punishment

In operant conditioning, a consequence to a behavior in which something is added to or removed from the situation to make the behavior less likely to occur in the future.

Rate of reinforcement

The number of reinforcers given for desired responses in a specific period of time. A high rate of reinforcement is critical to training success.

Ratio

A schedule of reinforcement in which the trainer reinforces desired behavior based on the number of responses. In a fixed ratio, the trainer reinforces the first “correct” response after a specific number of correct responses. “Two-fers” and “three-fers” are examples of fixed ratios. In a variable ratio reinforcement schedule, the trainer reinforces the first correct response after varying numbers of correct responses.

Reinforcement

In operant conditioning, a consequence to a behavior in which something is added to or removed from the situation to make the behavior more likely to occur in the future.

Reinforcer

Anything dog will work to obtain.

Release word

A word that signals the end of a behavior. After a behavior is strong and on cue, clicker trainers replace the clicker with a release word.

Secondary reinforcer

A conditioned reinforcer. A reinforcer the animal is not born needing. Secondary reinforcers may be as, or even more, powerful than a primary reinforcer.

Shaping

Building new behavior by selectively reinforcing variations in existing behavior, during the action rather than after completion, to increase or strengthen the behavior in a specific manner or direction.

Spontaneous recovery

A characteristic of extinction in which a behavior that was thought to be extinct unexpectedly reappears. If the trainer ensures that the behavior is not reinforced, it will disappear again quickly.

Stimulus

A change in the environment. If the stimulus has no effect on the animal, it is a neutral stimulus. A stimulus that stands out in the environment, that the animal notices more than other environmental stimuli, is a salient stimulus. A stimulus that causes a change of state in the animal, that causes him to perform a specific behavior, for example, is a discriminative stimulus.

Stimulus control

A conditioned stimulus becomes a discriminative stimulus (or cue) when it is followed by a specific learned behavior or reaction. The response is said to be ‘under stimulus control’ when presentation of the particular stimulus fulfills these four conditions: the behavior is always offered when that cue is presented; the behavior is not offered in the absence of that cue; the behavior is not offered in response to some other cue; and no other behavior occurs in response to that cue.

Successive approximation

Increasing or altering a behavior incrementally by repeatedly changing the environment to amplify or extend the behavior. For example, increasing the weight of a load or the height of a jump by small increments to amplify the effort to pull a load or jump an obstacle.

Target

Something the animal is taught to touch with some part of his body. A target is generally stationary.

Target stick

A mobile target the animal is taught to follow. Target sticks are often used as lures to shape behavior. Target sticks are available in our store.

Timing

The timing of the clicker. Ideally, the click should occur at exactly the same instant the target criterion is achieved. Timing is a mechanical skill and requires practice. The trainer must be able to recognize the behaviors that precede the target behavior in order to click at the very moment the target behavior occurs.

Traditional training

Compulsion training. Traditional training is characterized by modeling or luring to get the behavior, and the use of negative reinforcement and positive punishment to proof it.

Training session

A period of time devoted solely to training. Either the duration of the session or number of repetitions can be decided in advance.

Variable interval

A schedule of reinforcement in which the trainer reinforces desired behavior after varying periods of time within a certain timeframe.

Variable ratio

A schedule of reinforcement in which the trainer reinforces desired behavior after varying numbers of “correct” responses.

Variable schedule of reinforcement (VSR)

Technically, either a variable interval or variable ratio. However, most trainers use VSR to mean a variable ratio.