Clicker training is very useful when your working with a new puppy or even an older dog that you want to teach a new trick. Learning how to clicker train your dog is exceptionally easy and while careful timing is important it’s simple to understand and practice.
I discovered clicker training as a teenager while taking my family dog to a local training class called power paws. Although the class was basic it was pretty clear that clicker training worked and I have used it on every dog I have owned since. amazingly enough, clicker training can be used on practically any animal and it’s often used in zoos to teach animals to stand for vaccinations and blood draws.
How To Clicker Train Your Dog
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What is Clicker Training?
Clicker training is a popular form of positive reinforcement training that uses a bridge between the dog’s action and your delivery of a reward. The scientific definition is ‘an animal training method based on a bridging stimulus (the clicker) in operant conditioning’
While most people purchase a ‘clicker’ to follow this type of training the truth is that any distinct sound or word you can make quickly can also act as a bridge. The clicker is generally simpler for most people as the sound is not one easily replicated in everyday life and it’s unlikely the dog will hear it and become confused outside of training sessions. However, a whistle or word such as Yes! or Good! can also work.
How Does Clicker Training Work?
The basic theory behind clicker training was discovered while training pigeons. During World War II two students studying pigeon behavior theorized that the training methods of the time did not reward the animal fast enough to develop a quick link between the request, the action and the reward in the animal’s mind. The solution to this was to build a bridge between the two.
By conditioning, the animal to recognize a specific sound means that a reward is imminent you can more precisely mark the desired behavior. So when you are trying to teach your dog to Sit and have already conditioned the dog to recognize the clicker sound you will typically see that dog learn the command faster than other methods. This is because you are able to tell the dog the exact second they do what you want without fumbling for a treat or offering a few pets.
How Do You Start Clicker Training Your Dog?
Now that science and theory are out of the way its time to get down to how you actually start clicker training. Despite the theories behind it, the act of clicker training is actually very simple!
Like all training, the most important part is to be consistent. Make sure that everyone involved in training the dog agrees with the method and the clicker/bridge sound and word that will be used. You won’t get anywhere with your training if 3 people are using 3 different behavior markers. Once you have purchased a clicker or decided upon a marker word then you are ready to start.
Charging Your Marker/Clicker
Before you can start using your clicker as a bridge in training you have to make sure your pet associates the sound with an incoming reward. Spend a couple of days or training sessions doing nothing but making the sound and immediately delivering a treat.
Do this in quick succession – Click, treat, Click, treat, Click, treat – for up to 10 repetitions a few times a day. You’ll know that your marker word or clicker has been successfully charged if you can make the sound and have your pet come running immediately for the expected treat.
Start Using Your Clicker In Training
With your clicker, successfully charged you can start using your clicker during training. Remember, when using a clicker that sound automatically means a treat…so even if you accidentally click you have to deliver a treat!
You can use your clicker in several ways to help teach your dog a specific behavior. Think of the clicker as a way to communicate to your dog that you like a specific behavior. Since animals tend to repeat actions that give them positive results eventually your dog will start to repeat these behaviors and they will become engrained. Some popular methods to teach a dog some specific behaviors include.
Methods Of Clicker Training
- Capturing – This is basically catching your dog in the act of naturally offering a behavior you like. For example, my golden retriever Connor always resisted learning to roll over, trying to lure him over was a futile effort that never went anywhere no matter how patient I was! However, I noticed that he enjoyed rolling over on the grass when outside so I took my clicker outside with me and made sure to click and treat every time I saw him rolling over. Before long he was rolling over for treats at the drop of a hat. Once he was offering the behavior willingly I started saying ‘over’ when he offered the behavior before clicking and treating. It wasn’t long before he connected the command to the action and now he rolls over perfectly!
- Luring – This is a method that most people are familiar with. typically this includes having a treat in your hand and using it to lure your dog into the position you want before clicking and rewarding. This method works particularly well for actions such as ‘sit’ and ‘down’. Holding a treat in front of a dog’s nose and using it to make them lift their heads up and back generally results in them naturally sitting, as soon as their butt hits the floor you click and treat. After a few repetitions, you can add the command word or hand signal to the sequence until they are repeating the action without the luring motion. Down is similar, you simply hold a treat in your fist and hold your hand on the floor. The dog will worry at your hand but should eventually lie down and you can click and treat.
- Shaping – Shaping is a method that’s normally used for teaching more complex behaviors. These are normally complicated tricks like putting their toys away. With shaping, you break the trick into baby steps and slowly build on each step until the dog is only being rewarded for completing the entire trick. Shaping can take a bit of time as you a rewarding every small step and gradually asking for more but it can lead so some pretty impressive tricks to show off to your guests and who doesn’t want to be known as that person with the super-smart dog?
What Can You Teach With Clicker Training?
There is no limit to the behaviors or tricks that you can teach your dog using clicker training. When it comes to working with your dog your only limited by your dog’s natural abilities (you can’t expect a pug to track like a hound) and your own patience and creativity.
The trick to teaching any animal is finding a way to make the animal understand what your asking of them. Using a positive reinforcement method like clicker training makes this process a fun and happy experience which helps you build a long-lasting and trusting relationship with your dog.