Clicker Training Terms

Aversivesearch for term

Any circumstance or event that causes pain, fear, or emotional discomfort.

Back-chainingsearch for term

Training the last behavior in a chain first, then training the next-to-last behavior, then the behavior before that, and so on. Back-chaining takes advantage of the Premack principle.

Balanced trainingsearch for term

A euphemism used to describe a mix of traditional or punishment-based training and other training techniques, such as clicker training.

Behaviorsearch for term

Any observable action an animal does.

Behavior chainsearch for term

A series of behaviors linked together in a continuous sequence by cues, and maintained by a reinforcer at the end of the chain. Each cue serves as the marker and the reinforcer for the previous behavior, and the cue for the next behavior.

Bridging stimulussearch for term

An event marker that identifies the desired response and “bridges” the time between the response and the delivery of the primary reinforcer. The clicker is a bridging stimulus.

Calming signalssearch for term

Subtle body signals used by dogs to indicate stress and to avoid or diffuse confrontation and aggression.

Chainingsearch for term

The process of combining multiple behaviors into a continuous sequence linked together by cues, and maintained by a reinforcer at the end of the chain. Each cue serves as the marker and the reinforcer for the previous behavior, and the cue for the next behavior.

Classical conditioningsearch for term

The process of associating a neutral stimulus with an involuntary response until the stimulus elicits the response.

Clickersearch for term

A toy noisemaker. Animal trainers make use of the clicker as an event marker to mark a desired response. The sound of the clicker is an excellent marker because it is unique, quick, and consistent. You can find several different types of clickers in our store.

Clicker trainingsearch for term

Clicker training is a system of teaching that uses positive reinforcement in combination with an event marker.

ClickerExposearch for term

A clicker training conference put on by Karen Pryor Clickertraining. Features lectures, hands-on labs, performances and networking events. For more information, visit ClickerExpo.com.

Combined trainingsearch for term

A type of training using all five principles of operant conditioning and a marker signal (clicker) to modify behavior.

Compulsion trainingsearch for term

The traditional style of dog training, where the dog is modeled or otherwise compelled to perform the behavior and physically corrected for noncompliance.

Conditioned punishersearch for term

A conditioned stimulus that signifies that an aversive is coming. Used to deter or interrupt behavior; if the behavior halts or changes, the aversive may be avoided. For example, a trainer that says “ack” to interrupt a behavior, or the warning beep of a shock collar when a dog gets too close to the boundary of an electric fence.

Conditioned reinforcersearch for term

A neutral stimulus paired with a primary reinforcer until the neutral stimulus takes on the reinforcing properties of the primary. A clicker, after being repeatedly associated with a food treat or other reinforcer, becomes a conditioned reinforcer.

Conditioned stimulussearch for term

Any stimulus that has preceded a particular behavior or event sufficiently often to provoke awareness or response. Clicks and cues are both examples of conditioned stimulus.

Consequencesearch for term

The result of an action. Consequences frequently, but not always, affect future behavior, making the behavior more or less likely to occur. The five principles of operant conditioning describe the potential results.

Continuous reinforcementsearch for term

The simplest schedule of reinforcement. Every desired response is reinforced.

Correctionsearch for term

A euphemism for the application of a physical aversive. The aversive is intended to communicate that the dog did something wrong. In some cases, the trainer then guides the dog through the desired behavior. The application of an aversive followed by desired behavior is considered instructive, thus the euphemism ”correction.”

Counter-conditioningsearch for term

Pairing one stimulus that evokes one response with another that evokes an opposite response, so that the first stimulus comes to evoke the second response. For example, a dog is afraid of men wearing hats. When a man wearing a hat approaches, the dog is repeatedly fed his favorite food. The goal is to replace the animal’s apprehension with the pleasure elicited by the food. Counter-conditioning must be done gradually, however; if the process is rushed, the favorite food may take on the fear association instead.

Criteriasearch for term

The specific, trainer-defined characteristics of a desired response in a training session. The trainer clicks at the instant the animal achieves each criterion. Criteria can include not only the physical behavior but elements like latency, duration, and distance.

Crossover dogsearch for term

A dog that has previously been trained by a non-clicker method and is now being clicker trained.

Crossover trainersearch for term

A trainer who previously used non-clicker methods to train animals and is now clicker training.

Cuesearch for term

A stimulus that elicits a behavior. Cues may be verbal, physical (i.e., a hand signal), or environmental (i.e., a curb may become a cue to sit if the dog is always cued to sit before crossing a road).

Desensitizationsearch for term

The process of increasing an animal’s tolerance to a particular stimulus by gradually increasing the presence of the stimulus.

Differential reinforcementsearch for term

Some responses are rewarded and others aren’t. For example, a trainer wanting tucked sits would reward tucked sits and ignore all others. Differential reinforcement is not a schedule of reinforcement.

Environmental reinforcersearch for term

Anything in the environment that your dog wants. Trainers can use access to these things as powerful reinforcers for desired behavior. For example, say your dog wants to greet an approaching dog. You can ask for a behavior and then let your dog’s compliance (or non-compliance) determine whether he gets to meet and greet.

Event markersearch for term

A signal used to mark desired behavior at the instant it occurs. The clicker is an event marker.

Extinctionsearch for term

The weakening of behavior through non-reinforcement or “ignoring” the behavior. In extinction, nothing is added or removed from the environment. For example, a treat lies on the other side of a fence. A dog reaches his paw under, but cannot reach the treat. Because reaching for the treat doesn’t work—because it isn’t reinforced through success—the dog will eventually quit reaching for the treat.

Extinction burstsearch for term

A characteristic of extinction. If a previously reinforced behavior is not reinforced, the animal will increase the intensity or frequency of the behavior in an attempt to earn the reinforcement again. If the behavior is not reinforced it will diminish again after an extinction burst.

Fixed intervalsearch for term

A schedule of reinforcement in which the trainer reinforces a desired behavior after a specific period of time—for example, every minute.

Fixed ratiosearch for term

A schedule of reinforcement in which the trainer reinforces a desired behavior after a specific number of responses. Two-fers and three-fers are examples of fixed ratios.

Four quadrants of operant conditioningsearch for term

An incorrect reference to the commonly seen chart illustrating the concepts of reinforcement and punishment. This description is misleading in two ways. It neglects to mention extinction, and it implies that all the principles of operant conditioning are of equal value in a training program.

Habituationsearch for term

The ability to get used to and stop reacting to meaningless stimuli.

Head haltersearch for term

Similar to a horse’s halter, a dog’s head halter gives the trainer control of the dog’s head, making it easier to manage a dog on leash until the dog has been taught to walk at the handler’s side.

Interval reinforcementsearch for term

The trainer reinforces according to a time schedule. In a fixed interval, the trainer reinforces the desired response after a specific period of time—for example, every minute. In a variable interval, the trainer reinforces after varying periods of time within a certain timeframe.

Jackpotsearch for term

A mega-reward given after a particularly exceptional effort.

Keep-going signal (KGS)search for term

A signal, verbal or otherwise, given in the middle of a behavior to tell the dog he is doing the behavior correctly and should keep doing what he’s doing. Keep-going signals add an unnecessary level of complexity in training.

Latencysearch for term

The time between the cue and the response. Ideally, that time is zero—or as close to immediate as possible.

Luringsearch for term

A hands-off method of guiding the dog through a behavior. For example, a food lure can be used to guide a dog from a sit into a down. This is a common method of getting more complex behaviors. Lures are usually food, but they may also be target sticks or anything else the dog will follow. Trainers must take care to fade the lure early.

Markersearch for term

A signal used to mark desired behavior at the instant it occurs. The clicker is a marker.

Modelingsearch for term

A technique used in traditional training to get behavior. At the outset, the dog is physically guided, or otherwise compelled, into doing the behavior. Pushing a dog’s rear into a sit is modeling. Clicker trainers don’t use modeling because we want our dogs to be active participants in the training process, using their own brains to figure out what will earn them clicks.

Negative punishment (P-)search for term

Taking away something the animal will work for to suppress (lessen the frequency of) a behavior. For example, a dog jumps on you to get attention. By turning your back or leaving the room, you apply P- by removing the attention he wants.

Negative reinforcement (R-)search for term

Removing something the animal will work to avoid to strengthen (increase the frequency of) a behavior. Heeling is traditionally taught through R-. The dog receives a correction when he walks anywhere except in heel position. Walking in heel position increases, because that is the only “safe” place—because the threat of correction is removed by walking there. The key to R- is that an aversive must first be applied or threatened in order for it to be removed.

No Reward Marker (NRM)search for term

Intended to be a signal to say, “No, that isn’t what I want. Try again.” From the operant conditioning perspective, it’s intended to add a verbal cue to extinction. However, once something has been added to the situation, it’s impossible to know whether a change occurred through extinction or punishment. No reward markers usually represent an unnecessary level of complexity in a training program.

Operant conditioning (OC)search for term

The process of changing an animal’s response to a certain stimulus by manipulating the consequences that immediately follow the response. The five principles of operant conditioning were developed by B.F. Skinner. Clicker training is a subset of operant conditioning, using only positive reinforcement, extinction, and, to a lesser extent, negative punishment.

Permanent criteriasearch for term

Criteria that are found in the final behavior. Permanent criteria should be trained to a higher level of reliability than temporary criteria.

poison(ed)search for term

No longer reinforcing for the dog.

Positive punishment (P+)search for term

Adding something the animal will work to avoid to suppress (lessen the frequency of) a behavior. For example, jerking on the leash to stop a dog from jumping on someone is P+ used to suppress the behavior of jumping. Other common examples of P+ include yelling, nose taps, spanking, electric shock, and assorted “booby traps.”

Positive reinforcement (R+)search for term

Adding something the animal will work for to strengthen (increase the frequency of) a behavior. For example, giving the dog a treat for sitting in order to increase the probability that the dog will sit again.

Premack principlesearch for term

A theory stating that a stronger response or a preferred response will reinforce a weaker response.

Primary reinforcersearch for term

A reinforcer that the animal is born needing. Food, water, and sex are primary reinforcers.

Proofingsearch for term

Teaching your dog to perform a behavior in the presence of distractions.

Punishmentsearch for term

In operant conditioning, a consequence to a behavior in which something is added to or removed from the situation to make the behavior less likely to occur in the future.

Rate of reinforcementsearch for term

The number of reinforcers given for desired responses in a specific period of time. A high rate of reinforcement is critical to training success.

Ratiosearch for term

A schedule of reinforcement in which the trainer reinforces desired behavior based on the number of responses. In a fixed ratio, the trainer reinforces the first “correct” response after a specific number of correct responses. “Two-fers” and “three-fers” are examples of fixed ratios. In a variable ratio reinforcement schedule, the trainer reinforces the first correct response after varying numbers of correct responses.

Reinforcementsearch for term

In operant conditioning, a consequence to a behavior in which something is added to or removed from the situation to make the behavior more likely to occur in the future.

Reinforcersearch for term

Anything dog will work to obtain.

Release wordsearch for term

A word that signals the end of a behavior. After a behavior is strong and on cue, clicker trainers replace the clicker with a release word.

Respondent conditioningsearch for term

The process of associating a neutral stimulus with an involuntary response until the stimulus elicits the response. A famous example was the discovery by Ivan Pavlov: dogs drooled when they heard a bell that was previously paired with food. Also called classical conditioning.

Secondary reinforcersearch for term

A conditioned reinforcer. A reinforcer the animal is not born needing. Secondary reinforcers may be as, or even more, powerful than a primary reinforcer.

Synonyms: conditioned reinforcer
Shapingsearch for term

Building new behavior by selectively reinforcing variations in existing behavior, during the action rather than after completion, to increase or strengthen the behavior in a specific manner or direction.

Spontaneous recoverysearch for term

A characteristic of extinction in which a behavior that was thought to be extinct unexpectedly reappears. If the trainer ensures that the behavior is not reinforced, it will disappear again quickly.

Stimulussearch for term

A change in the environment. If the stimulus has no effect on the animal, it is a neutral stimulus. A stimulus that stands out in the environment, that the animal notices more than other environmental stimuli, is a salient stimulus. A stimulus that causes a change of state in the animal, that causes him to perform a specific behavior, for example, is a discriminative stimulus.

Stimulus controlsearch for term

A conditioned stimulus becomes a discriminative stimulus (or cue) when it is followed by a specific learned behavior or reaction. The response is said to be 'under stimulus control' when presentation of the particular stimulus fulfills these four conditions: the behavior is always offered when that cue is presented; the behavior is not offered in the absence of that cue; the behavior is not offered in response to some other cue; and no other behavior occurs in response to that cue.

Successive approximationsearch for term

Increasing or altering a behavior incrementally by repeatedly changing the environment to amplify or extend the behavior. For example, increasing the weight of a load or the height of a jump by small increments to amplify the effort to pull a load or jump an obstacle.

Targetsearch for term

Something the animal is taught to touch with some part of his body. A target is generally stationary.

Target sticksearch for term

A mobile target the animal is taught to follow. Target sticks are often used as lures to shape behavior. Target sticks are available in our store.

Temporary criteriasearch for term

Criteria that are stepping stones to a final behavior that won’t, in their current form, be present in the final behavior. Temporary criteria should be trained only to about 80 percent reliability before “making it harder.” If a temporary criterion is reinforced for too long, the animal may be reluctant to change its behavior.

Three-fersearch for term

The animal has to perform three behaviors in order to earn one click and one treat.

Timingsearch for term

The timing of the clicker. Ideally, the click should occur at exactly the same instant the target criterion is achieved. Timing is a mechanical skill and requires practice. The trainer must be able to recognize the behaviors that precede the target behavior in order to click at the very moment the target behavior occurs.

Traditional trainingsearch for term

Compulsion training. Traditional training is characterized by modeling or luring to get the behavior, and the use of negative reinforcement and positive punishment to proof it.

Training periodsearch for term

A pre-set period of time set aside for training. A training period may be composed of multiple training sessions.

Training sessionsearch for term

Either a pre-set period of time or pre-set number of repetitions. Criteria should remain constant during a single session. At the end of a training session, the trainer evaluates the animal’s progress and decides whether to make the next session harder or stay at the same criteria.

Training sessionsearch for term

A period of time devoted solely to training. Either the duration of the session or number of repetitions can be decided in advance.

Two-fersearch for term

The animal has to perform two behaviors in order to earn one click and one treat.

Variable intervalsearch for term

A schedule of reinforcement in which the trainer reinforces desired behavior after varying periods of time within a certain timeframe.

Variable ratiosearch for term

A schedule of reinforcement in which the trainer reinforces desired behavior after varying numbers of “correct” responses.

Variable schedule of reinforcement (VSR)search for term

Technically, either a variable interval or variable ratio. However, most trainers use VSR to mean a variable ratio.

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