Behaviour 2019
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The Efficacy of Clickers and Other Reinforcement Methods in Training Na´ve Dogs to Perform New Tasks
Rachel J. Gilchrist, Lisa M. Gunter, Samantha F. Anderson, Clive D. L. Wynne. Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, United States

A handheld metal noisemaker known as a “clicker” is widely used to train new behaviors in dogs; however, evidence for their superior efficacy compared to providing solely primary reinforcement or other secondary reinforcers in the acquisition of novel behavior in dogs is almost entirely anecdotal.
Three experiments were conducted to determine under what circumstances a clicker may result in acquisition of a novel behavior more rapidly or to a higher level compared to other readily available reinforcement methods. In Experiment 1, three groups of 30 dogs each were trained to emit a novel sit and stay behavior of increasing duration with either the delivery of food alone, a verbal stimulus paired with food, or a clicker with food. The group that received only a primary reinforcer reached a significantly higher criterion of training success than the group trained with a verbal secondary reinforcer. Performance of the group experiencing a clicker as a secondary reinforcer was intermediate between the other two groups, but not significantly different from either. In Experiment 2, dogs in three groups of 25 each were shaped to emit a nose targeting behavior and then perform that behavior at increasing distances from the experimenter using the same three methods of positive reinforcement as in Experiment 1. No statistically significant differences between the groups were found. In Experiment 3, three groups of 30 dogs each were shaped to emit a nose-targeting behavior upon an array of wooden blocks with task difficulty increasing throughout testing using the same three methods of positive reinforcement as previously tested. No statistically significant differences between the groups were found.
Overall, the findings suggest that both clickers and other forms of positive reinforcement can be used successfully in training a dog to perform a novel behavior, but that no positive reinforcement method demonstrated significantly greater efficacy than any other.