Who is credited with introducing clicker training for dogs?

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What we now call clicker training (or operant behavior) was first developed shortly after World War II by marine mammal trainers working for the US Navy. Marine mammals are trained with whistles and land mammals are trained with clickers or short words called verbal markers. Chances are whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium—or see those perfectly-trained animals on television shows or in movies—they’ve probably been clicker-trained!

Up until the early 90’s, no dog trainer knew at all about clicker-training, so Karen Pryor and Gary Wilkes introduced a series of seminars on the subject to dog trainers in 1992 and 1993. Although no one used it, many were fascinated, and online discussions groups, where trainers could discuss both their mistakes and best practices, were started.

Karen Pryor is considered to be the leader in clicker training, because she helped to introduce this method of positive reinforcement to the dog training world. Pryor is a scientist in both behavioral psychology and marine biology and has practiced operant conditioning (clicker-training) by working hands-on as a dolphin trainer in the 1960s.

Today, over 10,000 dog trainers use this method, because:

• It is easy.
• It has visible benefits.
• It can be learned and utilized by anyone.
• Dogs love it.
• It’s fun for people, too.
• Mistakes are very easily fixed without any stress for the dog.

What we mean by “easily fixable mistakes” is, say you’re teaching your dog the “sit” command, but she only gets part of the way down and her butt never touches ground. With other training methods, you may go over the command many times, tiring and frustrating you both.

With clicker training, however, you only click was the command is properly completed and, since a food reward will follow the click within seconds, she’ll learn in no time that butt-to-the-ground equals click-food reward. Quite honestly, she’ll work very hard to make that click happen!

“All she’ll know is that partial sits won’t get treats anymore—but a butt to the ground will produce one,” said Certified Professional Dog Trainer Viviane Arzoumanian, CPTD-KA. “Behavior that is not reinforced tends to die off or extinguish and behavior that is reinforced is repeated!

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