Clicker training is a training method that involves marking a desired behavior and then rewarding it. The most common 'marking' tool is a small plastic box that makes a 'click' when pressed. This method was originally developed for marine animal training programs. There is no way to punish an animal in a large tank of water so providing a reward to increase the occurrence of the desired behavior was the only option.
Why the clicker?
Let's say the trainer is trying to get a dolphin to jump WAY up high over a pole. The trainer can't throw a fish into the air at the exact moment that the dolphin jumps up as desired. Instead, the trainer uses a bridging device (a whistle, click, a beep etc.) as a communication tool. The dolphin learns that the whistle (or click...) means a reward is coming. By carefully timing the click, the trainer can shape behavior very specifically so that the dolphin knows it was the height of the jump that was rewarded as opposed to the tail flip or splash or any other behavior that may have occurred in close proximity to the jump.
Once trainers started to get great results with this method in the marine world, they started to apply it to to other animals. Today clicker training is used for dogs, horses, circuses, zoos and many other environments all over the world.
Here are some of our favorite articles:
A Crateful of Teeth by Sue Ailsby describes how a trainer began using positive reinforcement with a difficult aggressive dog. (By the way-- a J&P trainer is a Jerk and Pull trainer--sometimes called a traditional trainer.)
Another of our favorite training articles by Sue Aislby is about teaching a Giant Schnauzer to herd Sheep.
Song and the Sheep
Fifteen tips for getting started by Karen Pryor
Why can't I just use my voice? by Karen Pryor
Eight ways of changing Behavior (We've found this article to be helpful with kids (and adults!) as much as dogs!)