CLICKER DOG TRAINING
Clicker dog training is a positive reward based training technique. Puppies usually find this fun. Turning training into a game gets good results. The Clicker is a good way to let your dog know he has done something right. It is consistent and unlike the tone of your voice, will not change. It acts as an indicator that your dog has done as he is asked and will get a reward for doing so.
It means you can reward good behaviour as it is happening. Clicking exactly when your dog is doing what you ask of him will mark the moment. Offer the reward immediately. What you are doing is ‘conditioning’ your dog to know that the sound of the clicker will indicate a reward.
You will need to use really tasty treats. Small pieces of cheese, hot dog sausage or liver treats work well.
How to start
Only use one click. Never point the clicker at the dogs face. It is a good idea to have the clicker behind your back especially if you are training a puppy. Some dogs are very sound sensitive and may find the clicker sound frightening at first. Try to muffle the sound. This technique will not be successful with a dog nervous of the clicker so use a different training method.
To get started, just click followed by a treat to build up association with the sound. You can do this around the house at regular intervals so the dog has time to understand it. When you click and your dog looks up at you, you know you have conditioned the clicker.
Clicker dog training differs from the traditional methods in that the behaviour has to be well understood before using a command i.e. verbal or hand movement. The dog needs to understand what the specific behaviour is before giving it a name. You can start to introduce the ‘cue’ when the dog confidently repeats the behaviour and understands that it earns a reward.
You can now give the behaviour a name e.g. ‘sit’. When you see your dog about to sit down, click and reward. Repeat this each time he goes to sit. Then introduce the cue ‘sit’. Ask the dog to sit, click and reward as soon as it has been actioned. Gradually, clicker dog training can be faded out once the dog is performing the behaviour with verbal cue. The dog will quickly learn to listen or watch for its cue. It will associate the cue with doing as asked and getting a tasty reward.
- Your dog will sometimes get it wrong. Consistency and repetition is the key. Take a break if you are getting frustrated and/or the dog is tiring.
- If you are using treats as reward, make sure your dog’s food intake is reduced so he does not put on weight. During training you can get through quite a lot of treats!
- Don’t use the cue words until you are sure your dog will get it right. Eg. Asking him to sit means straight away. If he doesn’t do what you ask, then he does not get the reward.
- Take your time and give clear commands. Always stay calm.
- If you click, always treat.
How long should the clicker be used?
Once the behaviour is learned, there is no need to use the clicker as the dog is understanding what you are asking him to do. The clicker and treats can be gradually faded out. Good behaviour is maintained by replacing with praise and a favourite toy or ball as a reward. This is known as variable reinforcement. The dog may not know when he is going to get a reward which makes the behaviour stronger. He will keep repeating in the hope of getting a reward! Clicker training can be used for any new behaviour. Once the basics have been established you can move on to more advanced training.
To recap on clicker training
- It is important to remember that a click is always followed with a treat. This ensures that the strength of the clicker is maintained. You don’t have to constantly use the clicker once the behaviour is established.
- Remember the click is not the reward or command – it is simply a way to say “Well done, you did it right”. Only click when your dog has done what you want it to.
- Tasty food treats as a stimulating reward tend to work the best. Or you can use balls, toys or just lots of praise and cuddles.
- You can guide your dog with treats to get them into the position you want (this is luring). Click as soon as they have got it right and give the treat. The lure can then be faded out.
Most importantly, have fun training your dog or puppy.