Chiandetti, C., Avella, S., Fongaro, E. et al. 2016. Can clicker training facilitate conditioning in dogs? Applied Animal Behaviour Science 184, 109-116.
In the attempt to verify clicker training efficacy in shaping dogs’ novel behaviours, we studied 51 domestic dogs. Learning was evaluated in three different conditions: when the primary reinforcer (food) was presented in association with (a) a clicker; (b) a spoken word, a condition absent in previous works on clicker; (c) alone. The three groups were balanced with respect to age, gender and breed; all dogs were naïve with respect to training experience and were shaped by two trainers. After reaching a learning criterion of 8 consecutive correct trials out of 10, each dog was tested for its ability to generalize the learned behaviour in two conditions, one similar and one different from the training condition. All dogs in our study proved to be equally able to learn the novel behaviour and generalize it to different testing conditions, with no differences associated with the specific acoustic secondary reinforcer used or when the primary reinforcer was presented alone. Although it is always advisable to be cautious in drawing conclusions from non-significant results, here we discuss whether and when there might be a direct advantage in using the clicker method over other secondary or primary reinforcers to model dogs’ behaviour.