An Introduction to Clicker Training

Clicker training is an excellent way of proving dogs with mental stimulation and setting up a positive learning environment
Clicker training is an excellent way of providing dogs with mental stimulation and setting up a positive learning environment

Clicker training is a way of training that has become increasingly popular due to its simplicity, effectiveness and gentle approach.

The idea behind it

Animals will naturally repeat a behaviour that has good results, and not repeat a behaviour that does not have good results. Trainers can use this, by rewarding a behaviour they want the dog to repeat. The difficulty is in rewarding at exactly the right time. This is where the clicker comes in.

What is the clicker?

A clicker is a small box that makes a 'click' sound
A clicker is a small box that makes a ‘click’ sound

A clicker is something that the animal wouldn’t normally react to, but they learn that ‘sound means there’s food on the way’. A bit like the dinner bell at school, it is just a bell and is not a good sound in itself but we soon learn to like the sound when we know what’s coming!

The clicker itself is a small plastic box that makes a ‘click’ sound when the button is pushed. It is a unique sound and it is always the same. This is the benefit of the clicker over a whistle / your voice etc.

The first step

First you have to turn the clicker from a boring sound into something your dog loves to hear. To do this is simple. Sit with a pot of treats and a clicker. Make the ‘click’ sound and immediately throw your dog a treat. Wait a few seconds and repeat the click and treat. When your dog starts to react to the click with a look that says “wow, there’s a treat coming soon – I know it!” – You’re ready. 

The next step

Now you can start to ‘mark’ behaviours with the clicker. The important thing here is to make the click sound as the dog does the behaviour you want. Only click once, then throw the treat sometime in the next few seconds. There are a few ways of encouraging your dog to do certain behaviours:

Shaping: You can shape behaviours by clicking and treating anything that’s along the right lines, then wait till your dog gets closer and closer to what you’re wanting to teach. For example, to teach them to go to bed, click and treat for looking at their bed, then stepping towards their bed, then walking right over to it and finally getting in it.

Luring: This is where you lure the dog into the position you want, then click and treat. For example, lifting a treat above and behind a dog’s head will get them to sit.

Catching: This is where you wait for your dog to do the behaviour naturally, then click and treat. For example, barking, shaking or sneezing.

Adding the cue

Only add the cue (command) after your dog knows the behaviour. This is so that he doesn’t learn to ignore the command before he understands the behaviour. Remember – your dog doesn’t understand English, he can only learn what a word means through repetitions of the cue alongside the behaviour.

What can I teach my dog with clicker training?

Anything! Be imaginative, teach your dog to wave, spin, to go bed, sneeze… the possibilities are endless!

Remember the Clicker rules

  • Click as the behaviour is happening
  • Follow a click with a treat
  • Only click once per behaviour
  • The clicker marks the end of the behaviour
  • Keep training sessions short
  • Remember – practise makes perfect!

For videos about clicker training, search for ‘clicker’ on www.naturallyhappydogs.com. Membership is usually only £4.95 ($7) per month but you can get a whole month for free by using the voucher code PPG.

About Sally Marchant

Sally Marchant is a dog trainer and behaviourist who runs www.naturallyhappydogs.com to bring hours of expert video information to dog owners worldwide and www.dog-and-bone.co.uk which runs training and behaviour seminars for dog professionals.

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