A Complete Guide to Clicker Training For Dogs
Explore the transformative world of positive reinforcement in our guide, "A Complete Guide to Clicker Training for Dogs." Whether you're a seasoned dog owner or new to training, discover insights and techniques to enhance your bond with your furry friend.
What Is Clicker Training?
Clicker training is a positive reinforcement technique that can be used not only in dog training but also with other animals. It involves a small handheld device called a clicker, which makes a distinct sound.
Here's how it works:
Click Sound: When your dog performs a desired behavior, like sitting or staying, you click the clicker.
Reward: Right after the click, the dog gets a reward, usually a treat. Timing is crucial; the reward follows the click almost immediately.
Association: Over time, the dog connects the click sound with the reward. The click becomes a clear signal that the behavior is correct and leads to a reward.
Consistency: Using the clicker consistently helps shape and reinforce various behaviors, allowing precise communication between you and your dog.
Marker Word vs. Clicker Sound
The clicker can be replaced with a marker word, e.g., “Yes,” however, compared to the sound of the clicker, the word is not that precise, as we can say it with different timing and intonation.
In addition, a clicker is a great tool to use when more than one member of the family is training, as no matter who is doing the training, the dog is hearing the exact same marker.
On the other hand, the clicker won’t be very handy if you want to train your dog, e.g., while walking. In this case, you can use the word “Yes” to mark a desired behavior instead of clicking.
It’s always good to teach your pet to respond to both.
P.S.: Also, some more sensitive dogs are initially scared of the sound of the clicker. So, before using it, you need to desensitize them to the noise. Do this by starting the dog off at a distance away from the clicker and throwing the treat to them. Gradually close the distance between them and the clicker as they start to look more comfortable
How Does It Work for Dogs?
You can teach your dog to understand the clicker sound before teaching any other commands.
Here’s how you can do it:
Try asking for behaviors your dog already knows (if any!) and then clicking when they perform the behavior.
If your dog doesn't know any behaviors, you can simply wait and watch them. Eventually, they will sit or lie down, and you can click and then feed them for this behavior!
This is a method called capturing.
- Grab a clicker and some treats
- Click about 10-20 times in a row and deliver a treat each time after the sound
- Make sure your dog’s attention is on you the whole time
- Try teaching commands with a clicker
How can you understand that the dog is responding to a clicker?
If you click when the dog is distracted or looking away from you, and they immediately respond by coming to you and looking for their treat, then this means they understand the clicker.
Tips for Successful Clicker Training
- Aim to have a 1-2 second gap between clicking and feeding your dog.
- Use their favorite treats to make these moments more memorable.
- What to do if the dog isn’t responding to any cues yet, how to teach a clicker.
- Get a few of the same clicker when you buy one - they all sound a bit different, and you’ll likely lose one!
How to Advance Clicker Training
You can use clicker training to teach behaviors through methods such as luring, capturing, and shaping.
Put a piece of food on your dog's nose and slowly move it back and up until your dog rocks back into a sit. Click and feed as their butt touches the floor. You can then put the food to their nose and pull it down to the ground in a straight line - as their chest hits the floor, click and feed.
When your dog finds these movements easy and follows your lure well, you can start saying “Sit” and “Down” just before the click so they start to associate these positions with the cues.
Ignore your dog but continue to observe them at a small distance. The second they sit down or lie down, click and move toward them to give them a treat. Repeat. Eventually, they will start offering you this behavior, and then you can add the relevant cue word.
Tip: Put your dog's favorite bed in the room with you and do this when they’re tired to make it more likely they will sit/lie down.
Shaping is very similar to capturing but requires a bit more skill and involvement. Show your dog that you have some exciting food and present them with a new object (a box or up-turned bowl works well).
Click your dog when they look at the object and repeat. Aim to up your criteria so now, instead of just looking at the object, maybe you wait for them to offer an extension of this behavior, such as moving closer to it before you click.
Perhaps your next step is for them to touch it with a paw or their nose, and then the end goal could be standing on it with their two front feet. This is supposed to be fun and engage the dog's brain. So, often, the end behavior doesn’t matter too much! Just click and reward as your dog offers you more and more extensions of the original behavior.
Tip: Make sure to also start in a low distraction area so your dog is able to concentrate on learning the new sound.
Pros and Cons of Clicker Training
My least favorite part of clicker training is the fact I never have one with me! Clickers are great for learning new skills with younger dogs or new rescues, but once you get outside, you will often forget to bring it with you or struggle to find it in pockets, and here, a ‘yes’ marker can work better.
Choosing a Clicker
There are various types of clickers available, including classic clickers, button clickers, clickers with volume control, and multi-clickers. When selecting a clicker, factors such as comfort, ease of use, and the produced sound should be considered. Some dogs may respond better to a softer click, while others may prefer a louder one.
Additionally, you can also utilize the built-in clicker in the Woofz app when teaching commands. It's convenient and eliminates the need to purchase a separate clicker. You can find the clicker on the command instructions slide in the upper right corner.
Experiment with different types to identify the one that suits you and your dog best. Ultimately, the most effective clicker is one that you feel comfortable using consistently during training sessions.
In summary, this guide explores the principles and benefits of clicker training for dogs, highlighting its positive reinforcement approach for building a strong bond. From basic commands to advanced tricks, the versatility of clicker training is emphasized as an effective and humane method for shaping desired behaviors.
With a focus on consistency and positive reinforcement, dog owners can use the clicker to cultivate a harmonious relationship with their pets, making it a powerful tool for a well-behaved and contented canine companion.
Woofz Content Manager with a deep passion for dogs and a strong affinity for positive reinforcement training methods.
Experienced dog trainer with Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Behavior. Diplomaed dog nutritionist. CFBA Accredited Canine Behaviorist