Are you “training with a clicker?”

Someone recently started a discussion on one of the horse clicker training yahoo groups about “clicker training” versus “training with a clicker.” Since I just posted an article about “What is clicker training?” I thought this discussion of “who is a clicker trainer?” was quite timely!

So, what’s the difference?

Some clicker trainers claim that other trainers aren’t actually “clicker training” they are just using a clicker in their training. The argument often goes that if you are using any kind of luring, pressure, negative reinforcement, punishment, etc. (including leashes for dogs and bridles or halters for horses), that you aren’t actually a “real” clicker trainer, you’re just merely training with a clicker.

To me, this is a pretty extreme view and a pretty narrow definition of clicker training. Also, I think quibbling over words in this way ultimately creates divisions between trainers. Positive trainers are still so few in number that we shouldn’t be dividing ourselves into camps based on who is “really” clicker training.

Many horse people (and dog people) start off clicker training by tacking it onto their old training methods or using it for just a few behaviors or tricks before they come to realize the power of positive reinforcement training. I was one of those and I know many other trainers who were too. It will be a lot easier to continue to build a community of positive trainers and get people interested in improving their training skills if we support and praise them for using a clicker, rather than telling them that they aren’t actually clicker training, but just training with a clicker.

Horse clicker trainer Alexandra Kurland posted a lengthy and very thoughtful response to this question of clicker training vs. training with a clicker. I encourage you to read it here. She discusses the continuum between directed learning, guided learning, and self-directed learning. Pressure (negative reinforcement) and luring are tools can very useful in some training situation. Even though some trainers use these tools poorly, that shouldn’t mean that we have to completely exclude them from our training tool box. Throughout her post, Alexandra references the lecture Kay Laurence gave at this year’s Art and Science of Animal Training conference. If you’re interested in more information about that lecture, I posted notes from it on my blog earlier this year.

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