Clicker Training for Dogs
What is a ‘clicker’?
A clicker is simply a small plastic box, containing a metal plate which, when pressed, makes a ‘click’ sound.
What is clicker training?
Clicker Training is a method of ‘positive reinforcement training’ – that is, rewarding the behaviours that we like instead of punishing behaviours that we don’t like. When the dog does what we want him to do, we ‘click’ and give him a treat.
So, we train the dog to understand that the ‘click’ means “well done” and that a treat is coming.
Benefits of Clicker Training
The benefit of the clicker is that it makes a consistent sound and we can make the sound at the very moment that the dog is carrying out the behaviour that we like. The dog will learn to associate the good behaviour with the ‘click’ and the forthcoming treat, and will learn to repeat the behaviour.
Of course, we can be positive just by saying “good dog” however, there are some potential problems with this. We will inevitably use a different tone depending on what mood we are in, so it is not a consistent sound; dogs are very sensitive to body language and tone so will receive mixed signals depending on your mood!
The other main problem is timing – by the time we have said “good dog”, the dog may have stopped the positive behaviour and started doing something else. Dogs do not have the power to determine which one of the behaviours is the good one, so again they receive a mixed signal.
Where do you start with Clicker Training?
The most important thing you need is your clicker! The next thing you’ll need are some treats. You will need small, easy to eat, tasty treats – something that will really make his mouth water! They must be quick to eat because this is a dynamic, fast way to train, so you don’t want him spending ages crunching through huge biscuits! Cheese, cut up into small pieces is irresistible to most dogs, or cooked sausages cut up. The treats need to be easily accessible – either in a loose pocket or a bag carried around your waist perhaps.
Now, start somewhere with minimal distractions. Our first aim is show the dog the meaning of the clicker. Stand in front of him, click ONCE and give a treat. At this point, the dog doesn’t have to do anything for his treat – he just needs to learn the association of the ‘click’ and treat routine. Spend some time doing a ‘click’, then treat. Generally give 1 treat but very occasionally, ‘jackpot’ with a handful of treats. Being unpredictable is a good trick to use with dogs – he’ll eventually work harder because although he knows he’ll get a treat anyway, it’ll be in the back of his mind that he might just get 5 treats if he does something extra special!
He will very quickly learn that a ‘click’ means that a treat it coming – you will see the recognition in his behaviour. His ears will prick at the ‘click’ sound, he may get excited, his behaviour will show when he expects a treat following the ‘click’.
The Top 3 Clicker Training Rules
1. ALWAYS treat after a click – even if you’ve accidentally clicked. The dog must have absolute faith in the ‘click means treat’ routine. Do not let the kids have the clicker to play with as a toy – even if they’re in a different room to the dog, he WILL hear it and will be tormented if his treats don’t follow. The clicker is the dog’s toy and no-one else’s!!
2. Only click ONCE. Don’t get excited when he does wonderful things and ‘click, click, click, click’ – this takes the consistency out of the ‘click’ and treat routine. One click is perfectly sufficient!!
3. Keep training sessions short and sweet, preferably around five minutes. They should be fun for both of you; fun for him because he’s getting lots of treats and is using his brain, and fun for you because it is far easier to train him than you ever imagined – but keep it fun by keeping it short!
When he is responding to the ‘click’ and visibly waiting for his treat, you are ready to move on to the next section on teaching basic clicker training commands