We’ve often thought of the click functioning primarily as a conditioned reinforcer. (And when we say conditioned reinforcer what we mean is … a once neutral stimuli that has taken on the value of a primary reinforcer through repetitive pairings*).
Yet, that is not the only function the click can have! The click can also function as a discriminative stimulus/cue for your learner – as it communicates that subsequent reinforcement is now available, contingent on doing specific behaviours to access it. (And when I say discriminative stimuli/cue what I mean is … an antecedent that has been consistently paired with a behavior-consequence relationship. Discriminative stimuli sets the occasion for behaviors that have been reinforced in their presence in the past*).
BONUS LEARNING – In one of our Animal Training Academy Podcast episodes with the amazing Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz (@ roughly 34:35) he mentions that behaviors in between the click and food delivery also get reinforced in the process. Listen here >>> http://bit.ly/ATA_Jesús_Rosales-Ruiz
For example let’s say you offer a verbal cue ‘sit’ and do so with a significant proximity between you and your dog (for example 5 meters). Some potential ABC’s could look like this;
A1 – Verbal ‘sit’ (5 meters proximity)
B1 – The dog sits
C1 – You click
A2 – Click (as a discriminative stimulus)
B2 – Dog comes to you
C2 – You deliver the food
Alternatively, another possibility (depending on what had been taught)
A2 – Click (as a discriminative stimulus)
B2 – Dog stays in the ‘sit’ position
C2 – You come to the dog and deliver the food
In both cases, B2 is hypothetically reinforced by the delivery of the food. I.e. it’s not that just the sitting immediately after the verbal ‘sit’ that can get reinforced it’s also the behaviours that follow it.
Therefore we consider there’s value in taking your time to plan your reinforcement strategy carefully including behaviours (from your learning partner/s) that follow the click. For example – if you want your dog to stay sitting, teach him/her this behaviour and build duration gradually. It can be beneficial to consider teaching the reinforcement acquiring behaviors, for a given training context first and as its own skill.
Another thing to mention here is that the click also serves a function of a discriminative stimulus for you as a learner/trainer. Your dog (or other animal/s you work with) does the behavior you want and that cues you to click. Then the click cues you to reach out for the subsequent reinforcement and deliver it to your learner.
So two key functions of your clicker can include: firstly – a discriminative stimulus for your learning partner to do the subsequent reinforcing acquiring behaviours and also secondly as a discriminative stimulus for you to do the subsequent reinforcement delivery behaviours.
What about you? How do you use the clicker in your training? We would love to hear from you and you can leave a comment directly below to let us know.
Anna Bartosik (Blog Writer 1 & ATA Happiness Engineer) &
Ryan Cartlidge (Blog Writer 2 & ATA Founder/Connector/Founder)
PS. This blog was inspired by Ripple Makers extraordinaires in the ATA members only community. To join in on similar discussions and get inspired by other amazing ATA members access your exclusive 30 day ATA membership trial here >>> https://www.animaltrainingacademy.com/trial-21/
* One thing we have learned over the years is the importance of sharing definitions! We appreciate that sometimes you might say something and have a definition in your mind of what you are talking about, but this can be very different from the definition the person you are talking to might have in their mind.
If any of our definitions are different from how you might define things, that’s totally okay. We are presenting everything here with the appreciation that we are always learning, & we acknowledge we are definitely not always right. The point of sharing these definitions is so that you know what we are referring to if you read these words in this particular blog.
And/or if you think we can build on what we offered here in the accuracy of our definitions and blog please don’t hesitate to let us know! We welcome and value your feedback.