This is a huge subject to try and cover in such a brief article would only do it an injustice, so I will try and give you a brief history and description and then give you some resources where you gain more information and gain a greater understanding on how to use it as a training aid.
Since around the 1940’s, there has been two separate schools of animal behaviour science, with first school focusing on what animals do in their natural environments…..the innate behaviours such as hunting, sexual displays, reproduction, hierarchy displays, etc., which are largely governed by evolution. This field is called Ethnology and one of the best known founders was Konrad Lorenz and studies in this field are biology based.
The second division of scientists studying behaviour, study how animals acquire behaviour…. how animals learn and is known as Behaviour Analysis. One if its best known founders is B. F. Skinner, who is best known for his classified training of pigeons during World War 2 in a secret laboratory in Minneapolis. Skinner was the scientist who defined the principles of Operate Conditioning and these studies are based in psychology.
Clicker training is most commonly seen in the marine mammal training areas, where a whistle, rather than a clicker is used as a bridging stimulus and now this training technique has also become very popular as a dog training tool.
What we now know as Clicker Training is an application of behaviour analysis, which has been developed by B. F. Skinner and his work with Operate Conditioning and then further developed by Kellar Breland, who was B. F. Skinner’s first graduate student. Marian Breland, who later became Marian Bailey and Bob Bailey worked with Skinner on the pigeon project. The Bailey’s have been running Clicker Training camps, teaching people the theory of Positive Reinforcement and clicker training for many years and they are still continued today even since Bob Bailey’s death.
Karen Pryor, who in the 1960’s was a marine mammal trainer, is probably the best known advocate of applied operate conditioning and clicker training and has written many books, such as Don’t Shoot The Dog, A Dog and A Dolphin and Lands Before The Wind, which are all worth reading if you are interested in kind and gentle training methods
When we train animals using food, food is known as a Primary Reinforcer. We will ask the animal to do something and when he performs the desired behaviour, he is rewarded with something he finds highly desirable. When a clicker is used in training, it is known as a Secondary Reinforcer and has to be “conditioned” first, so that it will have a value to the animal and become a signal to the animal that he has done the correct thing and a reward is soon to follow. The clicker is also known as the “Bridging Stimulus”, which is 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 easily conditioned by repeatedly making the clicker click and giving the animal a food treat, and soon the animal learns that the sound of the clicker means treats are following, thus becoming a secondary reinforcer.
I suppose the question is, why use clickers as training aid when you could condition your voice, saying “Good” as a secondary reinforcer? The reason the clicker has become so popular, is that it is unique and the same sound every time and does not vary. The clicker’s sound is unemotional and once a trainer is used to using the clicker, the sound can be delivered quickly and consistently every time. The clicker can be useful when training something at a distance, as you can tell the animal that it has done the correct behaviour, by clicking it, and that a reward will soon follow.
Once the animal has learnt the behaviour, by performing repetitions of the desired behaviour and being clicked then rewarded, the “Cue”, which can be a verbal word, or hand command, or both, can start being used and learn by the animal
People ask if they have to use the clicker forever to keep an animal doing a desired behaviour, and the answer is no. Once an animal has learnt the behaviour, the click is replaced by a treat, or praise or a pat. The clicker can now be used to teach a new behaviour. Remember the click sound only means “Yes, you have done that correctly and a treat or praise is coming.” It is also good to understand that the click sound also terminates the behaviour….. When you click, it tells the animal that it has done the correct behaviour, so can now stop. If you were teaching something that involved duration of a behaviour, then you would slowly increase the time the animal performed the behaviour, before clicking.
To learn more about clicker training, there are many books written for all different breeds of animals, but some of my favourite ones for bird training are
1. Clicker Training for Birds, by Karyn Pryor.
2. The Bird School Clicker Training, by Ann Castro
3. The Click That Does That Click, by Robin Deutsch
4. Clicking With Birds, by Linda Morrow
You will find most of these books by searching the internet under their names, but if you are interested in learning more about Clicker training, go to www.clickertraining.com
One peculiar thing that can happen when clicker training parrots, is that because they can imitate sounds quite well, they can learn to imitate the clickers noise. One of my birds, when eating, or when I am giving him treats, will sometimes make his own “click” noise, say “Good Boy” and then eat the treat. It is quite funny. If your bird starts imitating the clicker, just ignore this and continue with the training.
Purchase your "Clicker Training for Birds Fun Kit" by Karyn Pryor (Includes Book, Clicker and Target Stick) or Clicker through the PRC Shop Click here