Clicker Training Your Dog – The Basics
The Basics of Clicker Training Your Dog
When training your dog it’s nice to have some nifty little tricks up your sleeve. A clicker can be that ace up your sleeve when it comes to teaching your dog what you want from him. You can find dog clickers at any pet store, and they cost about 2$.
Clickers are little plastic boxes you hold in your hand, you press down on the metal tongue to make the clicking noise. When training your dog the idea is to click at the exact moment they perform the desired action. It works so well with dogs by clearly communicating when they’re doing the right thing.
Classical Conditioning & Clicker Training
You remember Pavlov’s dog right? Pavlov was a Russian physiologist studying digestion when he discovered something interesting about his canine subjects. They began to salivate whenever one of his assistants would enter the room. They were learning this response in anticipation of the reward (food) that wasn’t being offered yet. This is now called classical conditioning – a learning process that occurs between an environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring one. It occurs with clicker training when your dog performs actions habitually.
Clicker training at the beginning is an example of classical conditioning. If used consistently it can become operational conditioning, where the dog intentionally repeats an action to gain a reward. The difference might seem minor but it has big implications on the behavior of your dog. If your dog is performing actions with a purpose rather than by habit he’s going to retain much more information.
Your dog is going to gain confidence when he feels he can have control over consequences. They look forward to learning new behaviors because they’re expecting good rewards. This makes your dog much easier to work with – he will be more attentive and willing to please.
When teaching a dog a new behavior the clicker is your way of telling your dog exactly what behaviors are acceptable. Marking behavior with an exact sound for your dog gives him the only cue he needs to know he did the right thing. When we’re using a lot of verbal commands sometimes we say too much and the dog isn’t always clear what we’re looking for.
How To Implement Clicker Training
Start with something simple like sit. Ask for the behavior (if you have a puppy who doesn’t know sit hold a piece of food above his head) and at the exact moment the dogs butt hits the ground click and give him a treat.
Repeat a few more times. Get the behavior, click the behavior and then reinforce the behavior. Generally dogs can catch on pretty quick with this method, you might only need to give 2 or 3 repetitions with something simple like sit before they’re offering it themselves.
The key is making sure you click at the exact moment your dog does the desired behavior, and then use a treat for reinforcement.
If your dog doesn’t seem to respond to the clicker at first you need to evaluate if it was introduced properly. Start with something simple that your dog already knows or can be taught quickly.
Make the positive reinforcement after the click really rewarding. If you’ve trained a few times with the clicker he should have a pretty good mindset to learn something new for yummy treats.
Don’t get too discouraged if your pup doesn’t listen to new cues right away – some behaviors are quite challenging to teach. But as soon as he does get it you’re going to click and reinforce, which in turn should help with further repetitions.
Here’s a great video showing how you can use a clicker to train your dog to “watch me.”
Clicker Training Your Dog Has Multiple Uses
Clicker training isn’t just used for tricks. If you want to get your dog used to the idea of being rewarded for certain behaviors incorporate it into daily activities. If you’re on the couch watching TV and Fido comes over and lays down at your feet click and reward.
If it’s a behavior you like you can always use clicker training as positive reinforcement. Dogs desire structure and look to you for direction. With a clicker you can communicate to your dog exactly what behaviors are desired from him with one simple click.