How to Get Started With Clicker Training Your Dog
How many times have you watched a dog training video and thought to yourself ‘it would be nice if my dog paid half that attention to me.’ Well I used to say that to myself all the time until I started using a clicker & getting involved with positive reinforcement training.
Being able to mark the exact moment my dog does the right thing with a clicker has worked wonders, it makes dog training so much easier.
And the best part is getting started with clicker training is inexpensive and easy to do. To help you out I’ve put together a quick guide that covers all of the basics. Here’s how to get started with clicker training your dog.
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 usually cost about 5$.
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.
The Benefits of Clicker Training Your Dog
Many dog trainers use clicker training because it’s a great way to help mark good behaviors precisely. The benefits of clicker training include:
- Dogs catch on quickly that the click = good things happening
- You can mark good behaviors precisely with one sound
- It encourages your dog to try new things
- It can help you improve your methods and timing
- It helps build focus and attention
- It can help build up your dogs confidence (especially in shy or fearful dogs)
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.
Clicker Training Can Build Confidence
With clicker training your dog is going to gain confidence because he feels he can have control over consequences. Dogs look forward to learning new behaviors when they’re done in a positive way and when they know they can expect good rewards. This makes training so much easier in the long run because your dog 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 use a lot of verbal commands we often end up saying too much (what I like to refer to as word vomit) and our dogs don’t always know what we’re looking for. The clicker is a way to clearly communicate with your dog at the exact moment they do something awesome.
How to Get Started With Clicker Training
If you’ve never used clicker training with your dog the first step is introducing him to the clicker. With some treats and clicker in hand get your dogs attention. Click once and then give your dog a treat. Repeat a few times until your dog understands that the click = good stuff. Once your dog is comfortable with the clicker and understands that the click sound equals something good you can move onto training a new behavior with it.
How To Implement Clicker Training
If you’re just getting started with clicker training the best place to start is with something simple like sit. Ask for the behavior and at the exact moment the dogs butt hits the ground click then give him a treat.
Repeat this step a few more times, making sure to only click when his butt hits the ground and following up with a treat. Get the behavior, click the behavior and then reinforce the behavior. Generally dogs can catch on pretty quick with this method, and you might only need a few repetitions with something simple like sit before they’re offering it themselves.
The key to clicker training is to make sure you click at the exact moment your dog does the desired behavior, and then use a treat for reinforcement.
Be sure to make the positive reinforcement after the click really rewarding to help your dog understand that click = awesome stuff happening. If you’ve trained a few times with the clicker he should have a pretty good mindset to learn something new for yummy treats.
Here’s a great video showing how you can use a clicker to train your dog to “watch me.”
Quick tip for teaching sit: If you have a puppy that doesn’t know how to sit yet a nice way to teach them is to hold out a treat and move it slightly above his head. As your dog follows the treat with his eyes he should naturally sit. If you hold it too high he may jump for it, and if you hold it too low he probably won’t sit.
Clicker Training Troubleshooting
If your dog doesn’t seem to respond to the clicker at first you need to evaluate if it was introduced properly. Are you keeping them motivated by giving them a treat after the click? Are you remembering to only click once?
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.
Clicker Training Mistakes to Avoid
Clicker training is a great way to help your dog learn new things, but it can also get confusing if used incorrectly. When using a clicker remember to only click once. You want to click the moment your dog does the desired behavior and immediately follow it up with a treat. If you click more than once your dog won’t know exactly what behavior you’re rewarding. And remember to always follow up the click with a treat.
Clicker Training Rules to Remember:
- Only click once at the exact moment your dog does the desired behavior
- Follow up every click with a treat
Clicker Training Your Dog Has Multiple Uses
Clicker training isn’t just used for tricks. You can use it to reward certain behaviors that you like. If you’re on the couch watching TV and Fido comes over and lays down at your feet click and reward. If there’s any behaviors you like you can always use clicker training as positive reinforcement.
Dogs desire structure and look to you for direction. With a clicker you have an easy way to communicate to your dog exactly what behaviors are desired from him with one simple click.
Resources & Recommended Reading
- Kikopup’s video introduction to clicker training
- Karen Pryor’s cliker training starter guide
I have a Yorkie that’s not all that food driven. After 5 teeeny tiny treats he just walks away. Not conducive to much learning ????
Jen Gabbard says
It’s so weird isn’t it? Before Laika I assumed every single dog was extremely motivated by food no matter what. She proved me wrong.
Shavonda Joseph says
I loved your article. I have almost 2 years old standard poodle he is very playful and curious poodle. But he barks and gets uncontrollable when he sees another dog across the street or away I’m the distance. I need some advice regarding this as I’m worried he is getting stronger and worried if his behavior gets aggressive.
eva adams says
Just getting started with clicker training, and the best place to start is with something simple like sit. Ask for the behavior, and at the exact moment the dog’s butt hits the ground, click then give a treat. https://esacare.com/best-dog-trainers/
Repeat this step a few more times, making sure only to click when his butt hits the ground and following up with a treat. Get the behavior, click the behavior, and then reinforce the behavior. Generally, dogs can catch on pretty quickly with this method, and you might only need a few repetitions with something simple like sit before they’re offering it themselves.
Be sure to make the positive reinforcement after the click reward to help your dog understand that click means incredible stuff happening. If you’ve trained a few times with the clicker, he should have a pretty good mindset to learn something new for yummy treats.