“I take particular pleasure in the people who have tried this kind of training with their dogs… Their first reaction, as the dog begins to offer them behavior, is a thrill of personal success. And the second reaction is from the heart: I had no idea that I had such a smart dog. I used to think he was such a nuisance. I love this great dog!” -Karen Pryor
What is clicker training?
Clicker training is a method of animal training that bridges a behavior with a reward. You may have heard of the term: click. treat. Originally used to train marine mammals, dog trainers across the globe have recently adopted this technique for a multitude of behaviors. Clicker training is relatively simple to learn and requires no force from you or your pet. You simply click to mark a behavior that your dog has offered or has been lured into and reward that behavior. Timing is paramount when you are clicker training.
How do I start?
To start clicker training you must first charge the clicker. Charging the clicker is simply giving meaning to the click. To do this you will need high value treats, a clicker, and a leash on your dog to mitigate distractions. You will start off by either holding or stepping on the end of the leash to prevent your dog from exploring the surrounding area. Have treats in one hand and the clicker in the other, you will then click and give a couple of treats. Repeat this step for short periods over the next couple of days. A good rule of thumb is to keep the sessions under 2 minutes and to do 3-5 repetitions throughout the day. Your dog will pick up on the game rather quickly and associate the click with food. To test if your clicker is charged, wait until your dog is out of sight and click the clicker. Your dog should come running straight to you to receive his or her treat.
There are 2 ways to use the clicker and there are 3 ways to teach a behavior/command. First, we will focus on the two different ways to use the clicker, this is all based on personal preference.
1.) Click and release- When you click that releases the dog from the command or behavior he or she is performing and will come receive the reward.
2.) Continuous clicker- The click marks the correct behavior and/or command, but does not release the dog to receive reward. Continuous clicks communicate to the dog that he or she is on the right track.
There are various ways to have your dog earn a click. You can use a mixture of these methods or stick to one. It truly depends on what you want to teach, your timing, and your dog.
1.) Luring- Luring is when you lead your dog by a treat into a position. Once in position, you click and give the treat. This works great for dogs that are super food motivated.
2.) Capturing- Capturing a behavior is simply clicking when your dog does a behavior on its own. For example, lying on the dog bed. Every time your dog lies on the dog bed you click and give a treat.
3.) Shaping- Shaping is rewarding the building blocks of a behavior. Meaning if you want your dog to go to its dog bed you will simply click when the dog takes a step towards the bed. Next time you will click when he or she has a paw on the bed and so forth until you have reached the desired behavior.
The Dos and Don’ts
-Don’t point the clicker at the dog. It’s not a remote control.
-Do practice, practice, and practice so your timing is impeccable.
-Do vary the ratio of treats to keep dog motivated. Don’t always just give one treat, if your dog does well give him or her multiple treats.
-Don’t click the clicker for no reason. Every time you click and don’t reward you devalue the clicker.
-Do keep practice short and fun!
Will I always have to carry a clicker?
Once your dog is offering a behavior freely, start giving a verbal cue just before he or she starts performing the behavior. This will create an association in the dog’s mind and allow us to fade out the clicker. Remember to reward heavily at the beginning of transitioning to verbal commands and randomize the rewards as the dog demonstrates that he or she understands the verbal cue. By this point, the dog should be completely off of the clicker.