If you’ve heard the term “clicker training” or seen those clickers for sale at pet stores but you’re not really sure what it is or how to use it, keep reading to get the basics of clicker training and decide if it’s something you want to use.
What Is Clicker Training?
Clicker training involves using a small handheld clicker device to signal instantly when your dog has done something good. It is usually followed by a treat so that your dog learns to associate the clicker sound with the reward of getting a treat.
It’s very effective because it allows for you to instantaneously alert your dog that what he is doing is a good behavior that he should repeat. Clicker training can be used to teach just about any command or behavior you wish.
One of the greatest advantages of clicker training is that it encourages your dog to try and please you at all times instead of just during training sessions. They quickly learn that the potential for reward exists at any time and will actively explore the behaviors they can do to earn a treat.
Tips for Using Clicker Training to Train Your Dog
Clicker training is very easy to use. Here are a few tips to get you started.
- Get a clicker. Clickers are very affordable and they are not electrical in anyway so they last a long time and don’t require batteries.
- Push and release the spring on the clicker to signal that your dog is doing something good.
- Time it so that you click during the behavior, while it’s still in progress. Timing is important. If you don’t feel like you’re making progress, make sure you are timing it correctly.
- Immediately follow the clicker sound with a treat.
- Choose a treat that your dog likes. Some owners simply use dog food but we recommend making it more special. You can chop up a hot dog into pieces or try any of the many dog treats that are available.
- Keep the treat small. Feeding him a whole hot dog or a meal each time you reward may make him happy but it’s going to add on a lot of extra calories. Plus, if he gets too full, he’ll lose motivation to keep working to earn a treat.
- Start with simple behaviors like sit or lay down that your dog already does anyway so that he can start to build the positive associations between his action, the clicker sound, and the reward that follows.
- Only click once. If you want to give him extra praise, do it by giving extra treats, not extra clicks.
- Use the clicker even outside of training session. Click anytime he is doing a behavior you want to encourage, even if he’s not intentionally doing it to please you. For example, to teach him to come, click anytime he is walking toward you.
- Click even for partial behaviors. If he starts to sit, click. It’s ok if the click triggers him to stop sitting and come toward you. The goal is to progressively encourage him to perform certain behaviors so even partial movements in the right direction should be rewarded.
- Be alert to his behavior. You want to catch good behaviors even when they’re not intentional to make the conditioning more effective so you need to be extra alert to what your dog is doing so you can catch those moments and click in time to signal that a behavior was good.
- Never combine it with negative reinforcement. You may use negative reinforcement when you trying to correct a bad behavior but you should put the clicker away when you’re doing that. You need to make sure that your dog never mistakenly learns to associate the clicker with negative reinforcement and punishment.
- Make it fun. Clicker training should be a positive and enjoyable experience. It’s a great way to bond and easily show your dog what he can do to please you and earn a reward.
As with any training method, clicker training works best when you are consistent. Training doesn’t provide overnight results. You’ll need to be consistent and stick with it even before the results start to show.