How to Manipulate Antecedents with Clicker Training

by Heather Mckinney

Clicker training reinforces good behaviors in dogs.

Clicker training is an operant conditioning technique that uses a mechanical clicker to mark a dog's behavior. Operant conditioning pairs behaviors with negative and positive consequences so that the dog acts in an intentional way to get a reward. In dog training, an antecedent refers to cues given for a desired behavior. With clicker training, you manipulate these cues by reinforcing the behaviors you want your dog to display and ignoring the undesirable. These cues may be simple commands such as "sit" or "stay" or they may be more complex tricks such as "roll over and play dead".

Step 1

Wait for the desired behavior. If you want to teach your dog to sit, just wait for him to do so naturally. As soon as he sits down, press the clicker to mark that behavior.

Step 2

Reward the behavior. After clicking, reward your dog with a small treat or praise. You want the dog to associate this behavior with something positive. Repeat this process several times until he performs the desired behavior when he hears the click.

Step 3

Introduce the antecedent. Now you are ready to name the behavior that your dog performs. You can do this with a hand signal or verbal cue. Make sure whatever cue you use is consistent and distinct. For instance, do not say "sit" one time and "sit down" the next.

Step 4

Add in the click and reward for correct behavior. Now, you will help your dog associate the antecedent with the click and reward. Once your dog obeys your cue, then press the clicker and follow with the reward. Repeat this process until the animal consistently follows the cue.

Step 5

Withdraw the clicker and rewards. Now that your dog associates a particular behavior with an antecedent, you can stop using the clicker because there is no need to mark the behavior any more. You can eventually scale back on the rewards, maybe offering a pat on the head when he obeys the cue.

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