Does the marker signal have to be a Clicker?
A clicker is a very effective marker signal, which is why it is widely used by many animal trainers. Though the clicker is not the only possible marker signal that you could use. Dolphin and marine mammal trainers use a whistle. Fish trainers often use a spot light. When training deaf dogs, a vibrating collar also works as a marker signal. You could also use your voice i.e say “good”, however using a clicker has many advantages over using your voice. Studies have shown that using a clicker as a marker signal reduces training time by up to two thirds compared to using a verbal marker such as the word “good”.
A marker signal must meet the following criteria:
– It must be distinct, unlike any other stimulus in its environment.
This way the animal will not have any preconceived associations with the sound. Most animals are desensitized to the sound of our voice because they hear us talking all the time. So it takes much longer to condition the animal to a verbal marker signal. The sound of the clicker is short and high pitched, so it is a distinct sound that is different to other sounds in it’s environment. This allows the animal to learn to associate it more quickly than other sounds it is already conditioned to.
– It must be the same every time.
Our voice tends to change in tone, pitch and speed depending on our emotions and our environment. Our voice includes emotional content, e.g. Whether we are pleased or not.The sound of a clicker is consistent and not emotional.
– It must be short.
It must be short enough to mark a very precise behaviour. I.e the flick of an ear. It must be able to isolate a single behaviour. In the time it takes to say “good boy” the horse could have performed three or four behaviours and the horse won’t know which one earned the reinforcement.For example In the time it takes to say “good boy” the horse could stomp it’s foot, swish it’s tail, shake it’s head and flick an ear. The marker signal needs to be short enough to mark a single behaviour.
The clicker is easy to use and it makes a sound that is high pitched, short, distinct, and the same every time. So the clicker fits the requirements of a marker signal perfectly.