If you’ve been looking into dog training methods, then you’ve probably come across clicker training several times. It’s a popular method of reward-based training because it’s such an effective way to teach a dog new things. Whether you’re trying to train a puppy or you’re working with an older dog, here’s how to get started with clicker training.
How Does Clicker Training Work?
It only takes a few sessions for a dog to start associating the clicking sound with a treat. After this, they’ll be eager to do the right thing in order to earn the “click”, and therefore a treat.
Holding the Clicker
Before you use the clicker around your dog, practice using it a few times first. Ideally, you should be holding the clicker in the palm of your hand, keeping this low by your side. Avoid waving the clicker in the air or repeatedly pointing it at your dog. This will only leave your dog feeling intimidated, meaning that they won’t be receptive to learning.
Introducing the Clicker to Your Dog
The very first step of clicker training is to teach your dog that a treat follows each click. This is the easiest part of clicker training!
Have your dog near you while you’re doing something else, whether this may be reading a book, watching TV, or anything else that you usually do. Keep a jar of treats next to you. Then, at random intervals, click the clicker and immediately give your dog a treat. After this, ignore them and go back to what you were doing, before repeating again after a few minutes.
Once your dog begins to look at you expectantly whenever they hear the clicker, you’ll know that they’ve started to associate the clicking sound with receiving the treat.
Put the Clicker Into Action
It’s now time to use the clicker for training. Start by picking an easy command that your dog already knows, such as “sit”. Ask your dog to sit, and then as soon as their rump hits the ground, click and treat.
A clicker can be used to teach just about every command. It can also be used to fix bad behaviors, whether this may be a dog that jumps up or a dog that excessively barks. Use your clicker to mark the moments when they’re not jumping or barking, and that will help to reinforce the good behavior.
It’s All About Timing
When it comes to clicker training, timing is everything. You’ll need to use your clicker to mark the exact moment that your dog has performed the desired behavior. If you ask your dog to lie down, but they bounce back up while you’re clicking, then you’ll be rewarding them for standing up, rather than for lying down.
Clicking at the wrong time and then expecting them to still understand what you’re asking will only lead to a very frustrated dog.
Of course, no one is perfect. Chances are that you’ll get the timing wrong a few times. However, no matter what, a treat must always follow the click.
Phasing Out the Clicker
A clicker is useful for teaching a dog new behaviors. However, once your dog is solid on that behavior, you won’t need to use the clicker anymore.
Simply stop clicking and just hand over a treat each time instead. After this, you’ll be able to phase the treats out too, using them just occasionally to keep your dog motivated.
As you can see, it isn’t the clicking sound itself that’s special, it’s the fact that a clicker-trained dog associates the sound with a treat. So, while a clicker may be a commonly-used training tool, there are so many alternatives that you can use to help mark training moments.
Verbal commands can be useful. Whatever you pick needs to be short and, just like the clicker, always followed up with a treat. A simple “yes” said in the same tone each time would work.
You could also try using a visual marker instead. Many deaf dog trainers use a flashlight, or even just a thumbs-up sign.
The reason why so many positive dog trainers make use of clicker training is that this method has been proven to work time and time again. If you’ve been having a tough time teaching your dog certain behaviors, clicker training is definitely worth trying.