Clicker Training and Dogs. This is not a new concept. It has been around since about 1992 and is widely used around the world to great effect. We’re going to be looking at all things ‘clicker’ in this article including the benefits of clicker based training, where you can get them, how to use clickers, why your dog loves clicker training and advanced clicker uses.
The Benefits of Clicker based Training
We would all like a well behaved, obedient dog as our companion, yet sometimes this can seem to apply to other dogs, rather than your own!
Traditional training methods have been varied over the years, from admonishing poor behaviour to rewarding good behaviour and everything in between.
Two things are certain;
- Your dog will want to please you
- Your dog will be eager to learn
These are two of the most powerful and effective tools at our disposal. If we get it right, we’re not only happy with ourselves, but we will please our dog enormously and all of that equals contentment and harmony.
Dogs are pack animals and as such, are most content when they know their place in the pack. If we, as their pack leaders give them mixed messages and inconsistent training, they will find it difficult to know how to behave or how they fit into the pack dynamic.
Clicker Training provides consistency to our training and allows us to communicate with our dogs in a highly effective way.
Most of us talk to our dogs (me included!) It is thought the average dog understands about 150 words of our language. In essence however, we never need to use words to guide our dogs as our body language is all a dog needs to understand your intention. Enter clicker training!
The Basis of Clicker Training
This is how it works. In a nutshell, a ‘click’ marks the exact moment your dog displays a desired behaviour. In effect it is a ‘YES’ to our dog. It marks the precise moment your dog will easily recognise they’ve behaved in way we want them to.
Unlike purely reward based training where you issue an instruction, such as ‘Sit’ or ‘Down’ and then reward your dog with a treat for displaying the requested action or behaviour, the clicker is instant and consistent. A clicker will never get the word wrong and it’s tone never alters. As such, there’s no reason for your dog to be confused by it’s intention.
A single click, put simply says to our dog, ‘YES, I REALLY LIKE THAT BEHAVIOUR, I’M SO PLEASED WITH YOU AND I HOPE YOU CARRY ON DOING THAT FOR EVER AND ALWAYS’
Dogs live in the moment, so rewarding them even a few seconds after a requested behaviour can leave your dog wondering what he did to deserve a reward, rather than for what they actually did.
As you can see from the sentence above, a dog who lives in a single moment cannot effectively absorb such a long sentiment, when a single click says exactly the same thing. This is the reason clicker training is so highly effective.
How to use a Clicker
Firstly, get comfortable with your clicker. See which hand it feels most natural in and which finger or thumb is going to be the ‘trigger’. You will still need a hand to give a reward to your dog, so see whether it feels more natural to have the clicker and treats in the same hand or one in each hand.
In time, once your dog understands what is required of him, you’ll be able to put the clicker (and treats) away, but initially, use the clicker every time you train, walk or interact with your dog.
Let’s get started then! The first thing to remember is every time you click, your dog gets a reward. This applies even if you clicked accidentally or when your dog did something you didn’t want him to. What you use to reward is up to you. Remember initially you are likely to be using quite a few rewards, so make them small tokens.
Your dog will get to know really quickly that a click means he’s done something right and will want to do it again when you ask him to. The click itself doesn’t have a special meaning to your dog, but the food reward coming straight after means food and that means everything to your dog. Essentially we are using the oldest survival instinct to our advantage.
Start with a simple request, like ‘sit’ for example. Top tip; have some rewards in your pocket, or a treat bag and some in your hand. It is also a good idea to have rewards stored in a container out of sight of your dog. What you don’t want is your dog to associate a reward only when he sees you have rewards in your bag or hand.
Grab your dog’s attention, by calling their name or by showing them you have a reward if they come to you. You now have your dog’s undivided attention. Ideally, always follow their name with a request. For example; ‘Lottie come’. Your dog will know you mean them and also what you are asking them to do.
The instant your dog moves toward you, click once on the clicker and offer a reward to your dog. Hopefully, your dog will now be in close proximity!
With a reward in your hand, move your hand to above your dog’s head, between their ears is good. Your dog is likely to incline their head in preparation for eating the reward. Move your hand further away from your body, over and above your dog’s head. This will encourage your dog to fold his back legs into a sit position. The moment he sits, click and offer the reward.
If your dog is new to the sit request, do it in small bite size chunks. For every movement in the right direction, i.e. looking up or starting to fold their back legs into a sit position, click and reward until they have learned the whole movement. When your dog has done this successfully a few times, with the clicker and a reward, attach a verbal marker, in this case the word ‘Sit’.
Another good exercise is, with your dog’s attention (see above), open your hand out and offer your open palm at about the same level as your dog’s nose when they are stood. Don’t move toward your dog’s nose; you are looking for your dog to touch your open palm with their nose. The instant they touch your open palm with their nose, click once and reward. In time, the sight of an open palm will signal to your dog that you want them to return to you. This is a great recall tool as it is purely visual.
Again, start with bite size chunks – stand close to your dog initially, to make it as easy as possible for them to understand what you are asking them to do.
You can use the clicker for any desired behaviour and even use it to reinforce good behaviour if your dog displays any sign of aggression toward other dogs (more on that in another post).
The constant message with clicker training is to reinforce good or desired behaviour in a tangible and constant way.
The quality or quantity of the reward is not important; to your dog it is just food and doesn’t have a prized value. You can either use dedicated rewards or even use their own food (I only recommend this where your dog is fed dry food or kibble!). This is especially a consideration if your dog is prone to weight gain, so remember to keep whatever you reward him in balance to his recommended food consumption. If you use dedicated reward food, just adjust their main food accordingly.
I highly recommend clicker training. It keeps the message consistent, which your dog will understand and appreciate. You are communicating with your dog on a very effective basis and strengthening your relationship with your dog. Clickers are inexpensive, readily available and don’t take up too much room. I liken clicker training to power steering in a car, it does all the hard work for you!
You can use clicker training on any age of dog, so yes you can teach an old dog new tricks!
What’s not to like.
Consistent training method
Communication which is highly effective
Easy (to use)