By Lindsay Wood, MA, CTC
Acquisition of a multiple component task, such as approaching and touching a target apparatus on cue, plays an important role in animal training and husbandry. Experimental training of two groups of 10 naïve dogs (Canis familiaris) to perform the target task differed only by the assigned bridging stimulus: a clicker or spoken word "good." Although both types of bridging stimuli are used in the training field to indicate the precise instance of correct behavior, this study represents the first systematic comparison of the efficacy of these two types of bridging stimuli. There was a decrease of over 1/3 in training time and number of required reinforcements for the clicker as compared to the verbal condition group. The clicker trained dogs achieved behavior acquisition in significantly (p < .05) fewer minutes and required significantly fewer primary reinforcements than verbal condition dogs. The difference in effectiveness of the two bridging stimuli was most apparent at the onset of each new task component. It appears that use of the clicker, by providing a more precise marker than a verbal bridging stimulus, is responsible for superior acquisition of complex behaviors such as that studied here. The facilitation of learning provided by the clicker bridging stimulus has important implications for animal training, especially when professionals are confronted with time constraints. The potential of the clicker stimulus to improve animal learning throughout the entire process of a behavior may not only increase the rate of behavior acquisition, but also reduce animal frustration and further enhance the relationship between trainer and animal.
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