If you have researched dog training methods, you might have heard of clicker training. What is clicker training, and how can you start using it with your dog?
Clicker training is an effective method of dog training that uses a plastic tool that makes a clicking sound when it is pressed. Dog owners pair the sound of the clicker with positive reinforcement to teach proper behaviors and commands.
In this article, we will do a deep dive into clicker training. We will tell you exactly what it is and why it works. We will tell you how you can start clicker training with your dog, as well as the benefits of clicker training over other training methods.
I have loved dogs my entire life, and have done a lot of research about best practices for training and various training methods. Clicker training is a method that anyone can use. It is effective and uses positive reinforcement. Keep reading to learn more about clicker training!
What Is Clicker Training?
Clicker training is a method of dog training that is common among professional dog trainers and casual pet owners alike. The most important part of clicker training is the clicker itself. This is usually a simple plastic tool that makes a clicking sound when pressed. The click is high-pitched and loud.
When you are clicker training, you will press the clicker at the moment that your dog does something correctly. Every time that you press the clicker, you must give your dog a treat as well. With time, your dog will know that the sound of a clicker is a good thing because treats will be coming their way.
When you start clicker training, you will just press the clicker and give your dog a treat when they are calm or relaxing. This will get them used to the clicker and treat process and will start to tell them that their behavior is good.
Once they are used to the clicker and know that a treat will come once they hear the sound, you can start teaching them tricks and commands. We will discuss the process for teaching tricks and commands with a clicker later on in this article.
Clicker training is not the only method that can be used to train dogs. In fact, simple obedience commands can easily be taught without a clicker. However, clickers are extremely helpful when training from a distance or when you are teaching them a complicated trick. If you anticipate doing these things, then it might be a good idea to use the clicker when teaching them basic commands as well.
How Is Clicker Training Different From Other Training Methods?
Clicker training is very similar to other training methods. The most commonly recommended training method is to use treats as a motivator and reward for good behavior or following commands. Clicker training simply adds one more stimulus to the process.
By adding a clicking noise to the training sequence, your dog has another way to know that they are doing something good. Because of this extra stimulus, dogs usually pick up commands and tricks faster than dogs that aren’t exposed to clicker training.
Why Does Clicker Training Work?
Clicker training works because the sound of the clicker distinctly marks a behavior or moment. In traditional training methods, the trainer or owner will mark good behaviors with a treat and praise. These are examples of positive reinforcement, which are important methods of training. However, they are not distinct things that are only used in training.
In everyday life, you might give your dog praise and treats that aren’t related to training or responding to commands. We have all given praise and treats to our dogs just because they are cute. This is not a bad thing but could confuse them since it is the same reward that they get for following a command.
By using a clicker, the dog can differentiate between normal daily activities and training time.
An Alternative To The Clicker
An alternative to using a clicker is using a marker word. This method works in the same way as clicker training. Instead of using a clicker, you will say a marker word, like “yes” or something similar. In the same way as clicker training, you will say the marker word when your dog does something correctly and then give them a treat.
The benefit of using a marker word instead of a clicker is that you can use it whenever you want. You won’t have to worry about keeping track of a clicker to work on training your dog. This can lead to issues too. The goal of using an auditory marker is to eventually stop using it. Since you just use your voice as the marker when using this method, it is easy to rely on it in the long term instead of properly training them with a command.
Many people choose to use a clicker instead of a marker word because it is so distinct. Your dog will be able to distinguish between the clicker and other sounds. You might use your marker word in your daily life, which could confuse your dog. You are not likely to use a clicker sound in conversation or other situations outside of training.
Another reason to not use a marker word is that it can be hard to keep tone and inflection out of your voice when using the marker word. For it to truly be an effective training device, you need to say the marker word, in the same way, every time.
Ultimately, using a marker word can be as effective as a clicker, but is harder to do for most people. If you decide to use a marker word instead of a clicker, be sure to eventually stop using the marker word, try not to say it in the same tone around your dog when not training, and say it the exact same way to your dog every time. If you don’t think you can do those things, then you should probably stick with a clicker.
How To Get Started With Clicker Training
Once you decide that you want to clicker train your dog, you need to make sure that you do it right. Many people decide to start clicker training and simply use their clicker to just get their dog’s attention. Instead, the clicker needs to be a source of joy and positive reinforcement for your dog. Follow these tips to make sure you are using your clicker properly.
Let Your Dog Get Used To The Clicker
When you first start clicker training, your dog will not know right away what the clicker is or what it means. You must give your dog time to learn how the clicker works. Take your time with this step. If they understand that when they hear a clicker, then they will get a treat, then training will go much easier.
Start by simply clicking the clicker and immediately giving your dog a treat. Don’t try to do this to train or teach your dog anything yet. This is a time for your dog to learn how the clicker works. Practice using the clicker and then giving a treat at random periods throughout the day and in different places.
Start the process in a location that is comfortable for your dog, then slowly start to do it in other areas even outside of the home. The goal of this process is for your dog to learn that no matter what when they hear the clicker, they are about to get a treat.
It should not take very long for your dog to get excited when they hear the clicker. This is what you want in the end. Once your dog is alert and excited for a treat when they hear the clicker, then you will be ready to start using the clicker in the context of training.
Use Small Treats
During clicker training, you need to give your dog a treat every time you use the clicker. This will help your dog understand that the clicker sound is in response to good behavior that they should continue to do. Because of this though, you will end up giving your dog a lot of treats during training sessions.
To keep your dog healthy, use small treats during training. You can either break up regular-sized treats into smaller portions or use specially made small training treats. You just need to make sure that your dog likes the treat enough to be motivated to have good behavior, and that they don’t gain weight during training.
Use The Jackpot Method
A common clicker training trick that trainers use is the “jackpot.” This essentially means that you give your dog a big reward when they reach a training breakthrough or do something exceptionally well.
Even with the effective and efficient clicker training method, dogs will have trouble with certain commands or tricks. Even with constant practice, they might just have a hard time with some tricks, and that is fine. However, once your dog does the trick and seems to get it, you want to reward them well for their hard work.
You have a few options when giving a “jackpot” reward. You can give a handful of treats instead of just one, or a piece of meat, cheese, or another high-value treat. This will help to solidify the good behavior in your dog’s mind so that they can continue to do it correctly in the future.
Remember that when you want to give your dog a big reward like this, you still want to only use the clicker once. When you want to convey enthusiasm toward your dog for a training breakthrough, only increase the reward, not the clicks.
Practice Your Timing
Timing is one of the most important parts of clicker training. For your dog to understand that they are being rewarded for good behavior, you need to carefully time the clicking sound with the instant that they do the desired behavior.
With perfect timing, your dog will be more likely to understand which behaviors are desired. This will help the training process go smoothly. Your dog will be likely to learn and remember tricks and commands when your clicker is timed correctly.
Keep Training Sessions Short
This is a tip that applies to any method of dog training. Dogs will retain much more information from multiple short training sessions than from one long session. When you are actively teaching your dog a new command or trick, you should teach them in multiple sessions that last five to ten minutes.
Remember to reward your dog’s good behaviors throughout the day as well. This passive training will help solidify their training and teach them that they should listen to commands even outside of a training session.
Use The Clicker To Teach The Command
When you are teaching your dog a command or trick, you should use normal training methods. This includes using treats to encourage your dog to do certain actions. In normal training practices, the owner or trainer will give praise and a treat when the dog does something correctly. When clicker training, you will click the clicker and then give a treat when the dog does something correctly.
Since the dog is already familiarized with the clicker sound and its meaning, they are much more likely to understand what you want them to do when using this method as opposed to traditional training methods. With traditional training methods, the dog will eventually learn that they are being rewarded for good behavior. With clicker training, that understanding comes much quicker.
During training, you want to have your dog repeat the process several times until they can easily do the trick or command. Next, you will want to add a command word to the action. For example, when your dog sits, you will say “sit” then click and reward once they do it. Repeat this process with the command word several times as well. Eventually, they should do the command when you say the word.
Once your dog is at the point where they do the command every time you say the word, you can start to use the clicker less frequently. This is an important part of clicker training that we will discuss in the next section.
Slowly Stop Using The Clicker
You will eventually need to stop using the clicker because you want your dog to follow commands without needing it. You will not always have your clicker with you, and there will be times that you need your dog to follow a command when you don’t have it.
Once you have taught your dog a command with the clicker and they follow the command every time, it may be time to start removing the clicker. Start by saying the command without the clicker once. This time, give praise to your dog for doing the command instead of using the clicker and a treat. Then, slowly start giving the command without the clicker more and more often.
Eventually, you will get to a point where you don’t need the clicker at all for tricks and commands that your dog knows. Then, you will just need the clicker when you are teaching them new tricks and commands.
Use The “Shaping” Method
The “shaping” method is what some people call passive training. This is a technique that differs from actively teaching a specific command or trick. This method works by rewarding your dog when they do a desired behavior, even when they are not being trained for it.
An example of the shaping method would be clicking the clicker and rewarding your dog when they sit on their own, even without a command. Slowly, they will learn to sit in front of you to get a reward. Once they know the action, you can start to pair a command word with it. Eventually, they will learn to sit when you give the command.
This is a great way to introduce clicker training to your dog because they can passively learn the clicker and reward process.
Always End On A Positive Note
During training sessions, it is important to always end on a positive note. This will help your dog feel better about the training session overall and will help them remember the good behaviors that they performed during that session.
When you are ready to end your session, remember to only end it once your dog has done something correctly. When they do the action, use the clicker and then reward them. If your dog is having trouble learning the action that you are working on, you can even give them a command that they already know so that you can reward the behavior.
Don’t Rely Too Heavily On The Clicker
When some people start clicker training with their dog, they will try to use the clicker to get their dog to do everything. Remember that the clicker is simply a marker that indicates to your dog that what they just did was correct. When clicker training, you will need to pair actions with commands and then slowly remove the clicker.
The best tip that we have is to remember that the clicker is a tool to be used in conjunction with other training methods. You will still need to follow other training advice for teaching tricks and commands. You can not expect your dog to understand what you want from them without using proper training techniques.
What Are The Benefits Of Clicker Training?
Clicker training is a widely used and loved method of dog training. Many people choose it because it helps their dogs learn commands and tricks much more quickly than when using other methods.
We have gathered some of the most important benefits of clicker training and will discuss them in the next few sections.
Efficient Positive Reinforcement
Clicker training is a great method of dog training because it is an efficient and consistent way for your dog to learn commands. This method of dog training is especially efficient because it is so consistent. The clicker sound is always the same, which makes it distinctive for your dog. They will be conditioned to know that the sound of their clicker means that they did something correctly and that they will be rewarded for it.
Clicker training is also effective because it only uses positive reinforcement. No part of clicker training involves punishment for wrong behaviors. The only rule of clicker training is to reward good behaviors.
In both animals and people, psychology has shown that positive reinforcement is the best way to teach something. The use of positive reinforcement coupled with the consistency of the clicker sound makes it so that dogs can easily learn commands and remember them in the long term when clicker training methods are used.
Your Dog Will Want To Pay Attention To You
Another important benefit of clicker training is that your dog will learn to pay attention to you. Every time they hear the clicking sound, they will know that you are about to give them a treat. This is a great thing for your dog to know for training purposes, as they will always be paying attention to you so that they don’t miss a treat.
This is also important for safety and recall purposes. If you are in an open area with your dog and they somehow get loose, you will need to use your dog’s recall skills to call them back. This situation is unsafe for many dogs that don’t have great recall skills or who choose to ignore their owners. If your dog has a special connection to you because of your training sessions, they are much more likely to come back to you, even if it is just for a treat.
Finally, the fact that your dog will want to pay attention to you will strengthen your bond together. Spending hours together training will bring a person and their dog close and can help create a strong relationship built on trust.
Training At A Distance
Using a clicker is also important for training at a distance. Most clickers make a loud, high-pitched clicking sound that travels over distances. This makes the clicker much more efficient for training at a distance than using a marker word or traditional training methods. Whether you are working on recall or playing fetch, you can use the clicker to mark good behavior for your dog even if they are far away from you.
This is an important benefit of clicker training because you will be able to effectively practice recall with your dog. This is an important skill for your dog to have if they ever get away from you.
As we discussed in the previous section, simply clicker training any commands with your dog will help them learn to pay attention to you. However, if you can effectively clicker train your dog to have good recall, then you can feel a sense of calm and safety knowing that your dog will come back to you if they ever get away.
Fosters A Sense Of Understanding
Clicker training fosters a sense of understanding between the dog and their trainer. In clicker training, there is an established set of rules that are consistently followed. If you stay consistent with training and the clicker reward system, then your dog will understand the process for learning new tricks and commands.
This will not only help you effectively communicate with your dog, but it makes it possible to teach them more complex tricks and commands. It can be very difficult to teach a dog a complicated trick using traditional training methods. With clicker training, your dog knows the click and reward process, so they will catch on to the training much quicker.
Why Do Some People Not Like Clicker Training?
Some studies have found that there is no significant difference between clicker training, using a word to mark good behavior, and not using any auditory marker during training to indicate good behavior. This has led some to believe that clicker training is too over-the-top since simpler training methods are equally effective.
Most people that believe this don’t necessarily think that clicker training is bad. Rather, they think that it is just unnecessary so they would rather not use it. All dog trainers can probably agree that positive reinforcement is much more important than an auditory marker. This would include treats and praise.
Another reason that some don’t use clicker training is that not every dog is motivated by food, and clicker training relies heavily on treats as a motivator. Trainers that rely too heavily on the clicker training method may not be successful when training a dog that is not motivated by food.
Ultimately, some dog trainers stand by the clicker method while some prefer not to use it. Most people agree that clicker training is not bad. If you decide that clicker training is effective and right for your dog, then there is no problem in utilizing that method.
About THE AUTHOR
I have had dogs my whole life and have always trained my own dogs with patience and positive reinforcement. My dogs are my life. My family always had dogs growing up. I've trained dogs for clients while working at a local dog daycare. I hope that my research and experiences are helpful to you as I share them here.Read More About Russell Wright