In our first article in this series, you heard from Dr. Bradbury about some clicker training essentials. Today, let’s talk about the concept behind the method.
The term “clicker training” sounds very specialized and like you’d need training yourself just to do it with your rabbit. Not the case! It just takes some practice, and a basic understanding of the process.
Clicker training is simply using a soft sound to tell your rabbit that they did the right thing, and they are going to be rewarded for it. Your rabbit is in control here. She learns that she can make you click by doing certain things, and so if she wants that click, she can offer certain behaviors to get it.
You can teach your rabbit to come when called, for instance:
How does clicker training work? If your rabbit hears a click then gets a treat every time she comes to you at the ex-pen door, she’ll quickly learn that coming to the door means a click, and that the click means a treat. She’ll start to come up to you on her own, to get the click. Eventually verbal cues can be added in, and fancier behaviors can be learned.
Positive behavior is rewarded, and NEGATIVE BEHAVIOR IS IGNORED. If your rabbit isn’t offering the behavior you are asking for, you just pay no attention. Ignored behavior fades away pretty fast – your rabbit isn’t getting any joy from it. No scolding or correction here! The focus is on learning to make each other happy, and there is no place for fear or anger on either side.
Why can’t you just say “Good Bunny” in an excited way when your rabbit does something you want? Well, because we humans are inconsistent. The tone of our voice, our word choices, the length of the praise – it all varies when we try to use words. A click is short, and consistent. The sound is always the same, so the message is clear. Although this article is about training horses, some terrific points are made about the sounds we make. We even make unintentional sounds! Remember: “Come” is not the same thing as “Come here”. “Get off” is not the same as “Get down”. Have you ever travelled to a place where another language is spoken? If you listen in on a conversation, it can be hard to even tell where the words begin and end. For our animals, human language sounds like this.
Clicking is also a faster response, and timing is important. A great clicker trainer gives that click at the right fraction of a second, just when the right behavior is offered. We can’t form words that quickly, but our fingers can click.
From “Clicking with your Rabbit” (Joan Orr and Teresa Lewin):
“…perhaps you are trying to teach your bunny to come to the door of the cage. He has done so, but by the time you open the door to give the food reward, the bunny has already become frustrated and started chewing on the door. You give the treat because the bunny came to the door, but he associates the reward with chewing on the door. You may have inadvertently taught your rabbit to chew on his cage door to get a treat. If you use the clicker to instantly “mark” the appropriate behavior of coming to the door, then he will learn that the correct behavior is to come to the door of the cage. You will be amazed by how smart your bunny is! All he needs is to be able to communicate effectively with you, and you with him. The clicker makes this possible.”
Clicker training is all a ton of fun for both you and your rabbit! You’ll be closer friends, and have a real dialogue.
Next, we are going to do some preparation. Ready?
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