Over the last six lessons you have learned a lot about how the clicker works. The previous lesson introduced the idea of a metaphorical contract. You now know to pair every click with a piece of food. This next lesson is split into two parts and here we are going to answer the questions – why use a clicker? And – When to use a clicker?
The clicker delivers a very sharp, distinct and universal sound. It doesn’t matter whether you use it or someone else does, the sound the clicker produces is the same. This feature gives it universality between users. The clickers sharp, distinct and unique sound makes it ideal for marking behavior. Learn more about its benefits with regards to marking behavior in this lessons video.
Theoretically, you could take any novel stimuli and pair it with food. As long as you follow the techniques taught in this course you could, therefore, replace the clicker with that novel stimuli. There do exist alternatives to the clicker that are frequently used in animal training. In this lesson, we compare the clicker to two of these alternatives.
Sometimes I replace the clicker with a whistle when I’m training. The whistle acts in the same way as the clicker. I blow the whistle and then deliver food after my animal has exhibited a desirable behavior. There are some benefits to using a whistle over a clicker. The main one is that your hands are freed up as you can grip the whistle between your teeth whilst training. Watch this lessons video to see an example of this with a red-crowned parakeet. I chose the whistle in this situation due to having both my hands tied up. One hand was handling the animal and the other hand was holding my food.
There are also some cons to using a whistle. The whistle does not share the same universality as the clicker. There will likely be variation in the intensity and duration of whistle blows between individuals (and even between your own whistle blows). This has the potential to be confusing for some animals. The fact that the whistle has to be placed into the mouth additionally brings up certain hygienic issues that don’t exist with the clicker.
As we have already learned we could hypothetically replace the clicker with anything. This is true as long as we successfully pair whatever item we choose with a food item or other reinforcer. Knowing this information some people, therefore, simply like to use their voice. When using a verbal bridge it is suggested to keep it simple. One or two words would be best. For example “Good boy.” Like the whistle and clicker, using your voice has its pros and cons. One of the biggest advantages is that you don’t have to carry around physical objects like clickers or whistles. Variation in using the voice as a bridge, however, can be even larger then if using a whistle. This is especially pronounced if other people are participating in the training.
One of the main benefits for me when asking the question”why use a clicker?” is its unique sound. The sound is sharp, distinctive, quick to deliver and universal between its users.
Click through to the second part of this lesson and we are going to go over specific situations where clickers/bridges can really come in handy. I’ll see you there.