Dorey, N. R., Blandina, A., Udell, M. A. R. 2020. Clicker training does not enhance learning in mixed-breed shelter puppies (Canis familiaris). Journal of Veterinary Behavior 39, 57-63.
Clicker training has been a popular form of training for decades and is used in zoos, aquariums, and shelters. Only a handful of studies have investigated the efficacy of the clicker-training method itself despite its widespread popularity. In the first study, we used 30 shelter puppies, naïve to training, that were split into three different groups: clicker + primary reinforcement, vocal praise + primary reinforcement, and primary reinforcement alone. Each puppy was then trained to perform a “stay” command using seven shaping approximation steps. Puppies had 50 trials to get as far as they could in the shaping plan. We found that puppies in the primary reinforcement–alone group significantly outperformed puppies in the clicker + primary reinforcement group (P = 0.004). A second experiment was conducted to see if the type of behavior trained would influence the efficacy of the clicker use. For the second experiment, we trained a wave, a behavior that required multiple topographical steps. We used 60 shelter puppies, naïve to training, and split them into the same three groups (clicker + primary reinforcement, vocal praise + primary reinforcement, and primary reinforcement alone). No significant differences were found between conditions (P > 0.05) when training the wave behavior. These results suggest that different reinforcement strategies may be more or less effective depending on the type of behavior trained; however, we did not find evidence that the addition of a clicker or verbal cue enhanced training performance in either condition compared with using primary reinforcement alone. More research is needed to determine if clickers may have other benefits beyond basic training progression.