Why use a clicker to train your dog? Compared to marker words, clicks have a distinctive sound that cannot be easily recreated. The sound is also neutral, allowing a consistent tone that prevents confusion in pets. With marker words, there is always the possibility of adding emotional colour to the words uttered.
Clicker training is easy and similar to teaching dogs new skills using marker words. You can use it on puppies as young as eight weeks old (you can find some of them here). You may even be able to teach your pet basic commands within a day. However, the association and timing of the click are crucial aspects that pet owners must learn to get used to. In this dog clicker training guide, we will discuss how you can effectively familiarise yourself with the clicker. Then we will explain the basic steps in training your dog using this tool.
Preparing to Train Your Pet with a Clicker
A clicker should never be used like a remote control or a reward. A clicker tells your dog that his reward is coming and ‘marks’ the exact action that earned it. It bridges the association between the desired behaviour and the reward.
Before you even use the clicker on your pooch, practise with it first. For example, choose a specific word and then click on it every time it is uttered by someone on the radio or TV show. When you feel confident with your timing, you can now ‘charge’ it with your pet. You must have small treats on hand, ideally in a hip pouch.
‘Charging’ the clicker teaches your dog that the clicks mean something wonderful—a reward. Here are the steps:
- Click, and when he looks at you or in your direction, give the treat immediately. You can also toss it on the floor. Repeat.
- Keep clicking and giving the treat a couple of times. Change direction or position whilst doing so. This teaches him that no matter where the click is, a reward always follows something specific that he did.
- If your pet tries to get at your pouch or hand before you click, let him smell the treat. Keep your hand or pouch closed. When he calms down, click and then toss the treat again.
Click only once before handing the treat. If your dog finds the sound startling, soften it by wrapping the device with a cloth. You can also hold it behind you or use a click pen. Once he is used to the sound, hold the clicker on your side. Never hold it in front of you or point it at your furry friend.
Steps to Dog Clicker Training
Make sure your training area is quiet and free from distractions. The following are the basic steps:
- Decide which command you want to focus on teaching your pooch. You can teach him to sit, stand, lie down, potty, and other basic commands.
- Catch your dog in the act of doing the desired behaviour. The moment your furry friend does the exact behaviour you are aiming for, click and reward him. For example, if you want to teach him to sit, click when he sits, even if he does so by accident. Toss him a treat immediately. If he stands up to eat it, wait for him to sit again before you click and toss another treat. Do not lead him or push him into the action as he will be confused. Wait for him to repeat the behaviour before clicking and rewarding.
- Shape a new behaviour into your pet. Clicker training also reinforces the actions that are part of the desired behaviour until your pet finally performs it precisely. If you want him to lie down in his doggy bed, for example, click and reward when he turns into the direction of the bed. Every time he looks toward his bed, click and reward him. When he steps toward the area, click again and toss a treat. When he stands near the bed, click and reward him. Continue clicking and rewarding until he finally lies on the bed.
Final Points on Clicker Training
You must keep the clicker charged. This means that even if you clicked it by accident, you should give your dog a reward. Later, you can exchange the treats with praise or a toy. Also, never use the clicker to correct bad behaviour. This tool is meant to reinforce desired behaviour.
Did our dog clicker training tips help you gain confidence in teaching your dog? Check out more pet behaviour posts to learn more!