Clicker training is a great way to use positive reinforcement to train your dog. The basic idea is that dogs will repeat behaviors that get them what they want. Since your dog always wants a treat, you can teach them that certain behaviors will result in receiving those treats. It is simple positive reinforcement for positive behavior.
You may be thinking, “where does the clicker fit into this clicker training.” Positive reinforcement makes sense to most of us, so why not just praise your dog or give them a treat every time they do what you want them to do? A clicker is consistent and communicates with your dog even when you are not near them. Your voice may change or someone else may sound similar to you, but the clicker is a consistent and positive form of communication that your dog can understand— similar to bell training a dog to potty outside.
The following sections will take you through some of the basic things you need to understand to effectively train your puppy with a clicker. Before you start, however, it is vital to know and to understand that clicker training neither relies on nor uses fear, intimidation, or pain to train your puppy. If those are the techniques you want to use for dog training, then you can stop reading now. If, on the other hand, you want to use positive reinforcement to create an obedient and loving dog then these are some steps that will help to get you there.
What Is A Clicker?
A clicker is a really small, handheld device that makes a distinct clicking noise when pressed. It is easy to use and can be pressed by children and adults alike so that anyone can take part in the clicker training. Obviously purchasing a clicker is the first step in clicker training, and it is with this clicker that you begin teaching your dog what types of behaviors are appropriate and which ones are not. Initially, a reward is given in tandem with the clicking sound, but in your attempt to clicker train your dog, eventually, the reward is the click itself.
Why Not Just Use Words?
One of the most important things when training a dog is consistency. This is one of the most important reasons that clicker training is so efficient and effective. The moment your dog hears the sound of the clicker, the reinforced behavior kicks in. Your clicker sounds the same each time while your voice fluctuates both in tone and the length of time it takes you to say a word.
In the past, training through the use of “marker words” was the most popular form of positive reinforcement training for dogs. You would use words like “yes” or “now” to go along with the treats that you gave. Marker words, however, can change in their tone and in how they are said based on the person doing the training and the mood that that person is in at the time. Clickers are neutral, consistent, and convey the same meaning every time.
There are some commands that you will still want to use verbal cues to accomplish, like when you train a dog to come when called, you’ll want to keep using the word “come”. As a general rule, however, the advantages of a clicker are clear, and using a clicker effectively will make training your dog easier than you could imagine.
Clicker Training Practice
One of the things that you will want to do prior to clicker training your dog is to practice. This may seem like overkill at first glance, but in the clicker training process, timing is everything. You want to make sure you have a feel for the clicker so that at the exact moment you need to, you make the click and your dog knows what behavior you desire.
We would suggest practicing while watching television, to begin with. Find a show where the characters on the screen change pretty regularly and then choose one of your favorite characters. Every time you see that character come on screen, click the clicker right away until you get to the point that you click it immediately every time you see him.
Once you have done this, move to practice on your dog. Begin with some unimportant commands so that you get used to the clicker while mistakes do not make a difference. For instance, try clicking every time he looks at you and give your dog a treat immediately. Eventually, just click the clicker and see if you can get your dog to look at you without the treat.
How To Capture And Shape Your Dog’s Behavior Through Clicker Training
Once you have learned the mechanics of the clicker, it is important to understand the concepts of “capturing” and “shaping” your dog’s behavior. These concepts are vital to understanding the process of clicker training.
You capture your dog’s behavior simply by informing them that they have done something good naturally. For instance, if you want to teach your dog to sit, then click and reward them every time they sit down without being prompted. In this way, they will begin to understand that sitting down on the ground is a behavior that is rewarded.
You shape your dog’s behavior by creating small goals that, when added up, allow your dog to reach the behavior you desire. If your long-term goal is for your dog to sit, then you set numerous smaller goals that work together to shape the desired behavior. The sitting example maybe something like this:
- Your dog makes a “sitting” motion.
- Your dog stands or lies still next to you.
- Your dog sits without prompting.
- Your dog sits when you put a treat on the ground for him.
- Your dog sits when he hears the click.
How To Clicker Train Your Dog
Clickers are the perfect tool for teaching your dog through operant or classical conditioning, otherwise known as learning by association or by consequence, similar concepts used in crate training or housebreaking your pup. The only thing that you cannot do using the clicker is training by some of the more “traditional training” techniques. These techniques include fear, intimidation, and pain that “correct” a dog rather than mark and reward desirable behaviors. Owners who focus on these techniques rely on emotions rather than science to create behavior and that is not what clickers are designed to do.
Clickers are essentially a tool to “mark” a behavior that you want a dog to repeat. If you beat or intimidate your dog, you are not marking a positive behavior but trying to force a dog to stop a negative one. Does this mean that a clicker cannot fix negative behaviors? Absolutely not. While fear and intimidation seek to fix behaviors through fear, clickers seek to fix behavior through replacement. Rather than performing the negative act when a stimulus is present, a dog is trained to replace that negative behavior with a positive one.
Clicker Training Tips
As we have mentioned before, this can work for any dog, you just have to know how to clicker train a dog. Here are some important tips to read and understand as you move forward in the process:
- Use clicker training to both create good behavior and modify negative behavior if done correctly.
- Get a wristband along with your clicker so that you can make sure you have it every time you need it.
- Keep the training sessions short and at various times throughout the day.
- Be consistent, just like any type of dog training do the same things over and over again. Be systematic and patient through the process.
- Use a pouch or bag to hold the treats and rewards that you will give your puppy. The bag allows you to keep your other hand on the clicker so that you can give the click at the exact moment your dog does what they are supposed to.
- Make sure that you are reading your dog’s communication  correctly and that the behavior you are modifying actually needs to be changed.
How do I start clicker training?
Starting is as simple as purchasing a clicker for about five dollars at your local pet store or online. The truth is that any dog can be clicker trained no matter their age or breed all you have to do is be consistent and patient through the training sessions. To start the process, we would suggest practicing a little prior to training your dog to make sure you are ready. When you are ready to start training, persistence and consistency are key. Make up your mind prior to beginning that this is the way you want to train your dog and you will succeed.
How long does it take to clicker train a dog?
Clicker training will take different amounts of time for different dogs and for different behaviors. For instance, if you are teaching a dog to sit, then it will probably be a pretty quick process because it is a pretty simple command. If you are trying to teach manners like training your dog not to jump on people, on the other hand, it could be a slightly longer and more complicated process with more steps and goals along the way.
How do you train a dog to come to a clicker?
A clicker specializes in rewarding behavior from a distance, and that is what is needed when training your dog to come. When training them to come, you will need to load the clicker with a reward which means you capture the behavior you want and reward it immediately. When training a dog to come, click when your dog comes to you without prompting. Then, every time they make a move or a look, click and reward your dog with a treat. Continue that type of behavior until your dog begins to come to you for a treat. After a few repetitions, you can remove the treat and use the click by itself.
At what age should you start clicker training?
You can start clicker training for your dog at any age. No matter how old or young your puppy is, they will respond to this type of training. Dogs always want treats, and when they figure out that certain behaviors will result in rewards, clicker training becomes a breeze for new puppies and old ones alike.