What is clicker training?
Clicker training means using a sound (a click) to communicate with your dog. It marks your dog’s correct behavior the moment he does it. Essentially the moment your dog does what you want him to do—like a sit or a down—you immediately click and give him a treat. This gives your dog instant, specific feedback. Dogs learn much faster with a clicker (up to 45% faster) and it makes training fun.
How does it work?
It is fabulously simple. First, we teach the dog that the click means he has earned a treat. Then we use the click to tell the dog when he has done something we like. The click becomes a predictor of a reward.
Now before you dismiss the idea of carrying around a tool with you, I want you to know that it is only used to teach new behaviors. Once your dog knows the skill you can fade out the clicker, so it’s not a forever tool. My dogs, for example, only see the clicker when I decide to teach a new trick. When I take it out of the drawer they get very excited. It predicts fun and treats.
In this video, Laurent is rewarding Luna every time she looks at him. Since he clicks the moment Luna gives him eye contact, she is getting precise and instant feedback which means that she will learn this so much faster. Imagine if no clicker was used. By the time the treat got to Luna she would no longer be looking so she would not immediately associate the treat with the eye contact. So much slower to teach…
How to start with your dog: charging the clicker
This means teaching your dog that click means treat. To do this we will classically condition the dog to associate the sound of the click with him or her receiving a treat.
Step 1. Grab a handful of really yummy treats cut into small pieces.
Step 2. Every time you click, give your dog a treat (be careful not to click and treat at the same time; the treat must follow the click, not precede or coincide with it). To begin, repeat this 20 times in a row.
Step 3. Do this standing up, sitting down, while moving about, indoors, outdoors. Basically, make sure your dog understands that the click means treat in all situations.
Step 4. Do the exercise a few times a day for a 20 treats at a time until when you click you notice that your dog is eagerly anticipating the treat.
Good Mechanical Skills
Don’t give away that a treat is coming except with the click. For example, be careful not to reach for a treat, point the clicker toward the dog, or reach toward him with the treat before you click. This is distracting and can slow learning. After you treat, always bring your hand up to a neutral position (at your navel or behind your back) and keep it still so your dog does not get distracted and can learn quicker. Train yourself to insert a count or a word before you hand over the treat: Click. Count to yourself, one-one-thousand. Treat.
Watch the video to see how this is done. Caela is doing a great job with timing.
You can use a novel word, such as “Yes!” in place of the clicker. You would pair it and then use it the same way as the clicker. According to research, using a word to mark a behavior is effective but not nearly as effective as the clicker. You want to use a word that your dog does not hear all the time. “Good boy”, for example, is not the best choice.
- Click only once.
- If you click you must treat even if you have clicked in error (we call that a freebie!).
- The clicker is not a remote control. Don’t use it to call your dog to you.
- Click during the desired behavior, not after it is completed. For example, when you call your dog to you click while she is headed your way, not after she has gotten to you and stopped or sat. The timing of the click is crucial. Give the treat after the click; the timing of the treat is not as important but try to get it there within a couple of seconds. If you’re not sure when to click, think of it like taking a picture of your dog at the exact moment he does the behavior you want. Snap! You got it.
- Only click once for each desired behavior. Multiple clicks will be confusing to your dog. If you want to express special enthusiasm, increase the number of treats, not the number of clicks.
- Click when your dog does something you like. Practice with something easy that the dog is likely to do on his own. (Ideas: sit; come toward you; touch your hand with his nose.)
In this video I am teaching Decker the beginning of a trick. He already knows how to hand touch (touch his nose to my hand); now he is learning to target a piece of tape, first in my hand and then stuck to a wall. Soon it will be placed on an open cabinet door or an open mailbox, and he will easily learn to close the door by pushing it with his nose. Eventually the tape is faded and a cue is added.
Easy peasy and so much fun! Your dog will enthusiastically work with you and learning is a snap. Happy training!