What does a clicker do?

To reinforce a behavior the reward must be given within seconds of the behavior happening. This means that we have to be lightning fast at delivering the reward in order for the dog to understand what they did correctly. Most of us aren’t the flash, so by taking longer than a few moments, we run the possibility of having a lack of clarity in our training process.

For example, when a dog sits, and you walk over to the cookie jar, open it, and take a cookie out, then give it to your pup; the dog might be thinking that after it got up from the sit, wiggled his tail, lifted his paw, then tilted his head to eat the treat, it was tilting his head that got him the treat, because that was the last thing that he did. This all gets rather muddy and confusing for the animals. Because training is all about learning, clarity is a key component of this process.

In order to communicate more precisely, we need something to “bridge” the time in between the behavior and the delivery of the reward. That is where a clicker comes in. The clicker provides information to the animal by making a sound at the exact moment that they perform a behavior correctly. Ultimately making training more efficient and precise. The technical term for a clicker is an event marker or bridging stimulus, because it marks an event and bridges the time between that event and delivery of the reinforcement.

If you have ever been to a dolphin or marine mammal show you have probably already seen an event marker in action. Whistles are another form of event marker used to train marine mammals because their sound carries more effectively under water. The complex jumps, twists, and tricks that you see dolphins performing were all trained using only an event marker and a bucket of fish.