What does event marker mean in clicker training?

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In clicker training an animal, the click itself is called the “event marker.” Paired with positive reinforcement, usually in the form of a treat, the click serves as a signal to the animal that the desired behavior has been achieved. Clicks are especially effective as a training sound because they are unique and distinct in the animal’s environment. The click doesn’t sound like anything else the dog or cat hears routinely, and therefore becomes solely associated with training.

This is not only an effective method, but it is also very patient and humane. Although the term “negative reinforcement” is used in this kind of operant conditioning, it does not apply punishment, only the withholding of the usual reward, which is the “positive reinforcement.”

Based on the behavioral theories of American psychologist B.F. Skinner, this training method is tied to consequences, not triggering events that come before the action. Clicker training works equally well for dogs and cats, but the two species do learn differently.

Dogs are pack animals with an inherent need to please their ‘leader.” Cats are solitary predators. The main difference in training the two is that over time, the dog will come to respond to the event marker in exchange for praise only. Cats will only perform for treats. If a behavior doesn’t offer these wily feline businessmen a return on their investment, they move on quickly, clicker or no clicker.

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