Teaching animals the clicker way

I’ve just uploaded an article to my site that you need to read. It’s by behavior analyst Jesus Rosales-Ruiz, one of my professors at the University of North Texas. The article is about B.F. Skinner, shaping, trial and error learning, errorless learning, and Isreal Goldiamond’s constructional approach.

Clicker training originated out of research conducted in the 1930s by B.F. Skinner. (Contrary to popular belief, the first clicker trainers were NOT dolphin trainers, but were Keller and Marian Breland, two students of Skinner. More here about the history of clicker training.)

Skinner’s approach to teaching and training was very different from everyone else of the day and is still radically different from how most trainers and educators still think about learning. I really like this article because it does a great job of explaining how Skinner’s approach to learning is completely different from the traditional trial-and-error approaches to learning.

Skinner believed that “errors are not necessary for learning to occur. Errors are not a function of learning or vice-versa nor are they blamed on the learner. Errors are a function of poor analysis of behavior, a poorly designed shaping program, moving too fast from step to step in the program, and the lack of the prerequisite behavior necessary for success in the program.”

The article was originally written for dog trainers, but the ideas in it apply equally well to teaching horses, humans, hamsters, or any other kind of creature.

Read the article: Teaching Dogs the Clicker Way by Jesus Rosales Ruiz

(This article was originally published in the May/Jun 2007 issue of the Teaching Dogs magazine. It is posted here with permission from the author.)

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  • Suzana Muzitano

    Thanks for sharing the article, Mary! Extraordinary! I do not write much, although he had much to say, why not mastered English. I use a translator, sorry! 🙁 However, I love your blogs.

    • Hi Suzana,

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! It is one that I really like and I was hoping that others would like it too.



  • Did some reading about Marian Breland this weekend – what an amazing life she led! I’m looking forward to reading the Teaching Dogs article.

    • Hi Joyce,

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’m glad you did some reading about Marian Breland — she truly was an amazing woman. Unfortunately, her work has largely been forgotten by both the scientific community and the animal training community. However, she did some pretty cool stuff!

      Did you find the University of Central Arkansas’ IQ Zoo website? If not, you’d probably enjoy it. Here’s the link: http://www3.uca.edu/iqzoo/iqzoo.htm



  • Hertha

    Enjoyed the article. Always good to get the background and see how ideas have evolved. Hertha

    • Hi Hertha,

      So glad you enjoyed the article!


  • Mary, awesome article. I finally got around to reading it. So, afterwards I worked on heel with my “recalcitrant” dog, and it was amazing, She was heeling superbly. That says more about my own recalcitrance than my dog’s. Anyways, I’m excited to retry rat training. A dog trainer had encouraged me to set up my training environment like yours. And, I’d for awhile had wanted to figure out what Skinner’s training environment was, Lo and behold, your article described it, and your training set up for the rats is essentially Skinner’s adapted for a clicker. Thank you.

    • Hi Betsy,

      I’m so glad that you enjoyed the article!

      Let me know how the rat training goes.



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