You have probably heard of Pavlov’s dog experiments on classical conditioning. At a simplistic level they proved dogs (and other animals) can be conditioned (trained) to respond to certain stimuli. This amusing video on the Daily Mail website shows us a cat version. They are conditioned to jump up when they hear the sound of the click when the cat food can ‘pull’ is used.
It is also called “Pavlovian conditioning”. In Ivan Pavlov’s experiments in the 1890s he showed that dog’s would begin to salivate when they heard the footsteps of his assistant bringing food. The dogs did not need to see the food to respond to the expectation of its arrival. He took it a step further and conditioned them to salivate to the sound of a clicking metronome. He hard-wired into their brains an association between the clicking of a metronome and food.
In this cat video the sound is not a metronome but the sound of a cat food can being opened with a ‘pull’. The cats also respond excitedly to the sight of the can. If asleep they hear the beginning of the can being opened (a faint click) which elicits the Pavlovian response. It also confirms once again that cats don’t really sleep a lot of the time but snooze with their sense of hearing always switched on.
Clicker training is similar but not quite the same. The clicker is not the stimulus for a response but a ‘bridge’ between the desired behavior and the giving of a reward for that behavior. The clicker is a more precise way of delivering the reward. The cat associates the clicker sound with the reward (a food treat). As the clicker sound can be made immediately after the desired behavior is carried out by the cat or dog the animal is more likely to associated behavior with reward. It therefore improves the training process.
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