Clicker training was first used by trainers to train marine mammals, they would get them to respond to a command and when done correctly it was followed by a click and treat, this method was effective because it separates the process into two steps, information which is then followed by motivation.
So how does this transfer over to training our own dogs, and what is dog clicker training?
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What is clicker training?
Firstly what is a ‘clicker’? A clicker is a small plastic box, with a button that contains a metal plate inside and when the button is pressed it makes a ‘click’ sound.
Clicker Training is a great method of ‘positive reinforcement training’ – which means, rewarding the behaviours that we like instead of punishing the behaviours that we don’t like. When the dog does what we want it to do, we ‘click’ and give it a treat.
This is done by training your dog to understand that the ‘click’ means “well done” and that a treat will follow
The main benefit of the clicker is that it makes a consistent sound that your dog will get used to, whereas with verbal commands the tone of voice can change depending on whether you are having to shout to your dog at a distance or even the mood you may be in which can also change the tone, which the dog will pick up on and can find confusing during training.
Also the clicker has a quicker reaction and you can make the sound at the very moment that the dog is carrying out the behaviour that you like. The dog will learn to associate their good behaviour with the ‘click’ and then the treat, all you need to do is learn to repeat the process consistently.
Why clicker training is effective for dogs
Clicker training is a technique that is a highly successful method of dog training. The trainer uses a simple clicker that can be purchased from most pet stores and the dog is trained to respond to the sound of that clicker which is accompanied by a treat.
It doesn’t take long for your dog to learn that the sound of the clicker will be followed by a reward and in turn they will begin to respond to commands when the clicker is used knowing that something good will follow.
This is a perfect technique for us to use when training our dogs at home, as it is a simple and you can use it to get results fast.
Most people when training their dog will verbally praise a dog for good behaviour, as we know dogs love nothing more than praise from the human they love, so when praising them for good behaviour, you are at the same time motivating the dog to repeat this action as it likes the results it gives. This can be a good method to use for training, however it can take a dog longer to understand which behaviours and actions caused the praise from their human or the trainer.
When you introduce the click and treat method, it makes the process easier for your dog to understand. In normal training, you would say “good boy” or “good girl” when you praise your dog for the good behaviour and follow up with giving them a treat. The clicker becomes a substitute for the verbal praise and can actually catch the moment of their good behaviour quicker than you saying it, letting the dog know exactly which behaviour they are being rewarded for.
Investing in a clicker.
First things first if you want to give the click and treat method of training a try, you need to get a clicker, I have included a link here for the clickers I have used for my dogs, I chose these ones as they are a good price come in a pack of three so you can have one in your pocket one in a bag and one at home, or share with other family members, they also have a great strap on them with a clasp that you can either wear round your wrist or can be attached to a belt, or your bag etc. Clickers can also be picked up from any pet store and they are really inexpensive. As for the training itself once you have the clicker it is quick and really easy for you and your dog to learn.
Advantages to the click and treat method of training
A couple advantages of the click and treat method include:
1) You can get a much faster response than training using verbal praise, a clicker can quickly identify the exact behaviour right at the moment it happens,
2) Eventually it takes the place of treats. This method of training motivates your dog to respond when they hear clicks, it will also teach them to work without the expectations of having treats given to them each time they do something good.
3) it is great for teaching recall or if you are working at a distance from the dog, as the sound of the clicker will still work, without having them right next to you or you having to raise your voice to call them.
A good way to look at click and treat training is as a secondary reinforcement for your dog, things like their food and water, physical affection, playtime etc, anything that your dog wants and needs would be classed as primary reinforcement. So for example whenever you take your dog for a walk, their lead is a secondary reinforcement, this is because it is obvious to your dog that it is not their lead that is taking them for a walk; it is you, however, it does tell your dog, that the lead will let them know where they can and can’t go, so if they behave well on their lead their reward will be a nice long walk. Click and treat training works exactly the same way. When your dog hears the clicker, they will know that they have done something good and they will get a reward and as long as they keep hearing the clicker, they know there are rewards coming. So, the clicker like the lead works as a secondary reinforcement, that teaches them boundaries and the right way to behave.
How to start
Ok so you have your clicker! The next thing you’ll need are some treats. Make sure they are high value treats, meaning something that your dog will really appreciate as a reward not just a piece of their dry kibble, something that will really make their mouths water! Make sure they are small, they must be quick to eat as this is a fast way to train, so you don’t want them spending ages crunching through a huge biscuit, things like cheese, cut up into small pieces are irresistible to most dogs, or maybe some cooked sausages, pieces of chicken anything you can cut into small chunks. The treats also need to be easily accessible, either in a loose pocket or a bag carried around your waist perhaps, I have a great dog treat bag (I have included a photo of mine), it has plenty of pockets and changeable straps for round the waist or over the shoulder. I’ve had it for a while now and it’s a great bag, feel free to check it out here . Anyway, we are now ready to start the training.
Start somewhere with minimal distractions. The first step is to show your dog the meaning of the clicker. Stand in front of them, click ONCE and give a treat. At the moment your dog hasn’t had to do anything for the treat – you just want them to learn the association of the ‘click’ with a treat. Spend some time doing ‘click’, then treat. But occasionally, give them a few more treats altogether. Being unpredictable is a good trick to use with dogs – they will have already worked out that they are going to get a treat anyway, but in their minds, they will be thinking that they might just get more treats next time if they keep being good. If at anytime your dog seems startled by the noise of the click or they start to lose interest take a break, then go back to it again a bit later
Your dog will very quickly learn that a ‘click’ means a treat is coming and you will start to see the recognition in their behaviour. The ears will prick up at the sound of the ‘click’ sound, and you will see they may show some excitement as they are expecting a treat.
After your dog gets the hang of it, start adding commands, start with the basics of “sit” and “stay” and when they do as you ask click the clicker and reward with a treat.
So say you want to teach your dog to sit, you give the “sit” command and as soon as your dog rests its posterior on the floor in the sitting position you press your clicker then give the treat. Once they get the hang of “sit” and they are responding to the ‘click’ and visibly waiting for their treat, you are ready to move on to the next command.
The Top 3 Rules of clicker training
- ALWAYS treat after a click, if you accidentally click your clicker you still need to give the treat. Your dog needs to know that 100% whenever it hears the click it means they are getting a treat. If you have any children never let them have the clicker to play with as even if they’re in a different room to the dog, if they click it your dog will hear it and will expect a treat to follow. The clicker is meant for your dog only!
- Only ever click ONCE. Don’t get excited when your dog does something brilliant and start ‘click, click, clicking’ this will just confuse your dog. One click is all it needs!!
- Keep training sessions short, at around five minutes at a time. They should always be fun for both of you; it will be fun for your dog as it is getting lots of treats and always using it’s brain, and fun for you because you will find it way easier than you were thinking it would be to train your dog, but to avoid your dog becoming bored and you becoming frustrated, keep it fun by keeping it short!
Give It A Go
At the end of the day, apart from the small amount of money it would cost for the clicker, you have nothing to lose by trying this method of training, especially if other things you have tried before haven’t worked.
I’m not an expert, I’m not a dog trainer, I am just someone who myself has dogs and for me this method has worked really well, at the end of the day, dogs generally love food and if you have a treat they really love then it’s a winner.
I would never say this is going to work for everyone and their dog and some people have great success with other methods of training as I have also, there was one of my dogs that I couldn’t get to take to clicker training it was one of my rescues, and at the time I was living at my parents house and had to rely on them keeping it going when I was at work, which unfortunately they didn’t so it was never really successful for him. But I have had other dogs that have responded well to clicker training, and the new rescue dog my brother has just taken in, is at the moment being trained with a clicker and it’s going really well.
Benefits of clicker training
- Clicker training generally gets results relatively fast and it can be a lot of fun for both dog and owner.
- Clicker training is so easy for your dog to pick up as it leaves the dog with no doubt what it needs to do to get it’s reward.
- Clicker training doesn’t involve any forms of punishment. If your dog doesn’t do what you need it to do, it will know that it will not get the reward. Punishing a dog just leads to confusion as the dog does not know what it has done wrong, this can then lead to owner frustration which leads to an unhappy dog and owner. This is never a problem with clicker training, in fact it is a positive form of reinforcement, producing a happy dog and owner, which can then help bond and build a better relationship between them.
- Clicker training has also been shown to prove dogs learn a lot faster when positive reinforcement is used rather than any form of punishment. It is always better to let them know when they have done something well, rather than punish them for doing something bad.
- Clicker training dogs is good for dogs as they are very sensitive to body language and tones of voice so will receive mixed signals depending on your mood when training verbally! The other main issue is timing, by the time we have said “good boy” or “good girl”, the dog may have stopped that positive behaviour and started doing something else. This can cause confusion as dogs do not have the power to determine which one of the behaviours was the good one.
I hope you have found this article helpful, and maybe it has given you something to think about if the training you are doing right now isn’t working for your dog, again I repeat I am not a professional dog trainer I am a dog owner and this is just my take on this form of training, please feel free to leave your own comments on clicker training. Have you tried it? Was it a success?
Always remember that dogs are smart little animals and we should give them credit for that.
Click and treat training has proven to be a simple, but consistent method of training with quick results. So if you are looking for a new way to motivate and praise your dogs, get out there, buy a clicker and your dogs favourite treats and…..click!