Clicker Training Study Available

This morning I got an email from Karen Pryor about a new training study titled, Clicker Bridging Stimulus Efficacy by Lindsay A. Wood, MA, CTC. The study looked at the difference between a voice marker and another type of marker–in this case the clicker.

A clicker can be more than just a conditioned reinforcer and some of us actually use it as feedback during training. (I’ve written about intermediate bridges and terminal bridges before.)

If you are new to this type of training, a clicker or marker identifies precisely which behavior is the one you want and that it should be done again.

Karen wrote that the event marker was identified by Skinner’s protégé, the late Ogden Lindsley, who used a sound to teach his pet donkey to open a mailbox.

The voice can be a great tool or a problem depending on the emotional status of the trainer. It is used to conveying pleasure, warnings, instructions, cues, and correct responses. As a result of the multiple uses–it does not always result in a very clear word marker because the animal has to sort out what is being conveyed.

Many trainers agree that the “clicker is quicker.”

Recently I had a client whose dog did not differentiate well and who’s social style was one that required small steps before introducing any variations or locations. I put her on a clicker so I could mark the behaviors clearly to overcome the learning hurdle.

The study is the first systematic comparison between these two types of bridging stimuli and it found that there was a decrease of over 1/3 in the required training time and number of required reinforcements for the clicker as compared to the verbal condition group.

From the Clicker Bridging Stimulus Efficacy abstract:

The clicker trained dogs achieved behavior acquisition in significantly (p < .05) fewer minutes and required significantly fewer primary reinforcements than verbal conditioned dogs.

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.

You can check out the PDF of the clicker bridging stimulus efficacy training study here.

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  1. Fascinating!

    I always used my voice with my chihuahua because I never had the clicker in my hand when he did something I wanted him to do. I thought that my voice would do the same thing, but I guess not.

  2. I have used a combination but for new students concentrating on skill levels have not always used clickers in classes. I find this study to be interesting.

  3. I read the above mentioned unpublished study and found it overlooked a very important aspect concerning the quality of a bridging stimulus: novelty! There is no mention of the dogs used in the study previous experience with the clicker or the word good but I suppose it is safe to assume that in an American speaking environment the dogs will have heard the word good enough times to consider it of no importance. This to say that on these basis anyone with any knowledge of psychology could have predicted that a novel sound (clicker) would have been a better bridging stimulus as against any habituated sound ( word good). A bridging stimulus must be a novel sound I would suggest a word such a OUI (French for yes) or SI (Italian) JA (German) as a sound to be used to compare efficacy.


  4. My understanding was that the clickers were novel. I’ll have to go back and read it again.

    The idea is to not convey emotion or influence via the voice–so although the language difference is a good point–voice tone and variations could influence anyway.

    Any study tends to be flawed…