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Why Can't I Just Use My Voice?

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Clicker training involves shaping behavior in small steps, identifying the behavior, as it occurs, with some kind of marker signal. Dolphin trainers use a whistle; dog and horse trainers have settled on the clicker. But couldn't you just use a word, like "good," or "yes," as a marker signal? And wouldn't it be just as effective?

You can use a word—obedience instructors like the word "yes"—and it will work a lot better than treats alone; but it's not nearly as effective as a click. The evidence from dog training schools that have tried both methods suggests that dogs and their owners learn about 50% more rapidly when the marker signal is a click instead of the word "yes."

The click is easy to hear; words are not. The click is consistent. Words vary from moment to moment and person to person, but the click never changes. The timing of the click is easy to recognize; even beginners can tell if they clicked during the behavior they wanted, or a little too late. But we can't seem to make that same distinction with a word. Maybe clicker classes go faster mainly because people's timing improves rapidly. People who are using a word just don't have the same chance to develop good timing.

Finally, the word "yes" conveys a sense of social approval, not just to the dog but to the person saying "yes." What's the harm, if you are expressing positive emotion? Here's the problem: using a clicker, if you don't get what you had in mind, you just look for the next opportunity to click. Using a word, however, when you can't say "yes" you may feel frustrated and disappointed, and your posture may actually say "no!" The dog feels punished—and immediately the learning slows down or stops. Saving social praise for social interactions, and using a clear-cut mechanical marker signal that means only "you win!" to the dog, can speed up the learning and, strangely enough, remove stress and make the experience more fun for dog and owner, too.

About the author
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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

new cats

I have one old cat (11) who has lived with me for 11 years and two newbies (age 2) who want to play with him. All are males. The old one growls at them. When the newbies don't go away, he runs off into the closet for the day. As I don't want him to spend the rest of his life in the closet, how can I use click training to train the newbies to leave him alone when he growls?

Clicker Training in Noisy City Environments

I am new to clicker training, but my Rat Terrier rescue pup is a rather quick study. I like the fast-track to a few basic commands.

However, when I go outside, the streets of New York (even quieter Queens) obliterate the clicker's value. Other means to create a positive obedience environment must be considered. I have to train my dog to first tolerate Queens, and soon the streets of Midtown Manhattan (off Times Square). A clicker in Times Square?

I have had great luck with hand signals, some clicking, some voice commands alone: and not always using food as the reward. A food-centered dog will fast forget about me.

The most important thing is leash training. Walking. On a noisy street, with thousands of other dogs randomly passing through a neighborhood every day, I will need an arsenal of communication skills. A clicker may be one skill; but it cannot be the only thing I use.

Anyone who has had good fortune using a clicker in a high-stimulus environment like a New York street - please speak out! Many of us would love to learn.  peace 

Laurie Luck's picture

Clicker - Noisy Environs

Thanks for your comment. The clicker is simply the marker signal. You can (and should) use hand signals and voice cues to ask for behavior. The click merely marks the correct behavior and indicates that the dog has earned a reward. Dogs have a keen sense of hearing and should be able to hear the click, especially if you're using a box clicker. I raise and train service dogs and we've been on the subway and successfully used the clicker to mark good behavior. 

Laurie Luck
For Clickertraining.com
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
See my profile and contact information at

I have had problems with this

I have had problems with this also.  I use my voice in training. I have trained my Malamute for showing and obidence classes.  I believe in training obedience because I believe  it helps in bonding with the dog, and learns to listen.  I trained all my dogs in obidence because it makes a better dog and able to be around people.  My first Malamute I had here trained for therapy, with therapy dog international.  She would do things that was never taught to her she just did it on her own. My husband has a neck problem where he would wake up in the morning and would have to get on the floor.  His face would be a deep red. She would go over and lick his neck and relax the muscles then in her time would hit his neck in the spot she would pick with her nose and his neck would pop and his color in his face would come back to normal.  I did not use a clicker for her because I did not understand it as I do now.  She was good in the show ring too.  People would throw their bait out and not pick it up.  So when it was my turn to go I would just say leave it, and she would and we would go on.  I had bought a male dog that I trained in obedience I was going to show him too, he was winning but I found out that he cateracts, then I found out that he tyroid problems, then he had a problem with a valve in lungs and chest that was making him cough.  I had to take him to a vet that was did the ultra sound on him to find out what was wrong, the vet said that he was the best behavied Malamute he had ever came across or met. That made me feel good.  He is gone now and so is my two girls which are dearly missed.  Now I have two more Malamutes that are now 2 years They were rescued, they did not have training, only thing they knew was to kennel.  I have had to train them.  I also have a German Shep. too, she is around 9 years old and she to is a rescue. She was trained before I got her and is a very good dog. Anyway the one problem that I have with the three is that the Malamutes have claimed me and try to put her out of the picture.  I was so proud of her when the male attacked her she was on top she is even bigger then they are.  The female Malamute wants to play all the time so she is not in the attack mode.  She is still what I call a puppy head. The male is becaming more mature the she is.  I would like to try to use the clicker on them but I do not know where to start.  They both like to counter surf  but I am not sure how to do it.  I have had problems with this clicker training in the past I guess because I really did not under stand it.  I would like to give it a chance.  I too am going to school for dog training and I am training to learn all I can about training and behavior I have counted that I have  had around 18 dogs.  When in CA I had 8 dogs at one time and 7 was in the house.  I was doing rescue there.  Most of them ended up at my home for their home.  I had dogs that were big down to small ones.  They all got along and even the one cat.  She ruled.  They all lived to be old my oldest was 18 years I 5 dogs when I got the first Malamute.  So It is not that I do not know dogs, because I feel that I do.  I also worked for the animal control in Indio CA.  as a dog licence inspector.  I have had people tell that I would not able to touch their dogs, and German shep.  got in my lap and could not get him off to check his licence. The owner said that he bit the neighor and her.  I got the job done.  Thanks for listening and any help in this would be greatly appreciated.  I was just letting you know that I am not new as a dog trainer and how I get along with dogs.  Thanks.  

Questioning your reasons for clickers over voice

Some of your reasons don't entirely make sense:
The click is easy to hear; words are not.
Do you have any evidence to support this? If this is true, how can the dog hear my commands? I grant that a whistle is more effective under difficult sound conditions, but a click will be just as hard to hear as my voice under such conditions as high winds, extreme ambient noise, or distance. I grant that the click may stand out among words, but I don't see how it's easier to hear.

The click is consistent. Words vary from moment to moments and person to person, but the click never changes.
True, but consistency with words is something that any successful trainer should learn anyway. A click does remove the tone of voice changes, but even this can be both positive and negative effects on training: a happy, excited tone, consistently used with the same word, can go a long way to getting attention and creating a positive atmosphere. A negative tone that reveals handler frustration, can have a negative impact on the training; in this case, the click might be better because it strains out emotion that is better not revealed. But the click will still not strain out the handler's negative body language. Click or no click, if a good trainer doesn't learn consistency and how to deal with his own emotions, success will be negatively impacted.
The timing of the click is easy to recognize; even beginners can tell if they clicked during the behavior they wanted, or a little too late. But we can't seem to make that same distinction with a word. Again, any empirical evidence of this? If I can't discern the timing of my words, how can I discern the timing of my click?

I don't think you really answer the question about why voice should not work just as well, if properly used. By the way, unless I have laryngitis, I usually carry my voice with me.

KPCT's picture

Response to comment

Please read Clicker Bridging Stimulus Efficacy for more information on the topic. Karen will also address this question in her new book Reaching the Animal Mind due out Summer 2009.

Looking for scientific studies and research

I am a psychology student and beginning dog trainer and I have decided to write my senior thesis about clicker training but I need some scientific evidence to back it up. Where can I find research or statistics about the effectiveness of it? For instance, mentioned above, dogs and their owners learn 50% more rapidly when a clicker is used. I would love to get my hands on this kind of information but I don't know where to go to find the source. Thank you!!

new puppy training with an existing dog

We have a new puppy coming and I am keen to train the dog using the clicker method. However we do have an existing french bulldog who is well trained although not using the clicker method.
What is the best way to avoid confusion for both dogs using clicker / none clicker training?

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