Sunday, January 8, 2017

Clicker Training vs. Verbal Marker

Clicker Training vs Treat: Equally Good in Dog Training
By: Companion Animal Psychology

Scientists find unanticipated results in a study that compares the clicker to a verbal reward-marker and the use of food alone in dog training.

An Australian Shepherd looks at a clicker in a dog training session

The study, by Cinzia Chiandetti (University of Trieste) et al took 51 pet dogs and trained them on a novel task. 17 dogs were trained using a clicker, 17 using a verbal reward marker (“Bravo”), and 17 with only a reward. Then they tested the dogs to see how well they performed when asked to generalize the training to something similar and something more different.

The results were a surprise to the scientists, who expected to find that using the clicker would lead to better results. In fact there was no difference between the three groups of dogs.

They write,

“Although we should be cautious in drawing any strong conclusion from statistically non-significant results, our study is consistent with previous works conducted in different laboratories with both dogs and horses… which, taken together, point toward no advantage in favor of the shaping method using one acoustic signal over another.”

A clicker is a secondary reinforcer, meaning something that predicts a primary reinforcer (food) is coming. This is a classical conditioning relationship (click means treat). The clicker or verbal reward is used to mark the precise time at which the dog is performing the behaviour that earns a reward. It is commonly used in reward-based dog training.

Proponents of clicker training have often argued there is something about the click which makes dogs learn better. The purpose of the study was to test this idea, since we don’t know without empirical evidence (see: canine science is better than common sense).

In this study, the verbal reward marker was “Bravo.” It was always said in a neutral tone of voice. Read the entire article

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