Q: My dog is responding slowly to the cue. How can I get a faster response?
It seems straightforward: we click to mark a desired behavior, and then we reinforce. The act of reinforcing the behavior necessitates a change in action: the horse eats the treat, the dog plays with its favorite toy, and the animal in the process of being reinforced no longer performs the behavior for which it was clicked. The click, therefore, ends the behavior. The phrase has become a widely-repeated tenet of clicker training. Yet, is it true?
Helix Fairweather became interested in the skills dogs need—and too often do not have—to play happily with other dogs. She decided to launch a series of Dog Park play sessions to allow skilled dogs to teach other dogs the art of playing and to teach handlers the observation skills necessary to understand canine communication.
Sometimes this question is asked in a different way: Will I have to continue clicking and treating forever? In asking either question, what we really want to know is: When are we done? When can we call a behavior trained once and for all? The answer to these questions is (like most not-so-simple questions): It depends.
Here's something people often don't get, and not just in agility training: cues—the signals you give your dog to tell it what to do—can be clicks. If your cue tells the dog to do something it understands, and something with a guaranteed positive outcome or reinforcer as a result, it becomes a potential reinforcer in itself. And you can use it to shape behavior.