What is Clicker Training?

What is Clicker Training?

Some say that clicker training is one of the most significant advances in dog training in recent history. Derived from dolphin training, the idea behind this technique is that dogs are better able to understand exactly what we are asking of them if we are able to precisely tell them the exact moment they are doing it.

This is where the clicker comes in; the timing of the sound from these devices signals the precise moment a particular training exercise is completed correctly.

What is a clicker?

With all the hype, getting your hands on a clicker can be a little disappointing. Most of them look as if they have come from a Christmas cracker. They are small, usually plastic, devices with a metal strip that, when pressed and released, makes a loud ‘click’ sound!

What are the benefits?

The clicker is a much faster and simpler means of communicating correct behaviour over the spoken word. Dogs love this form of training as it is completely positive and reward based.

Over time, you will actually see them experimenting, then listening for the click, experimenting again until they hear it. Dogs enjoy this training technique as it is very stimulating for them and, because this method encourages co-operation without stress, it is often a chosen technique for training rescue dogs.

How to get started?

It all sounds so simple doesn’t it? Well, it takes a little practice, so here are a few tips:

  • Press the clicker at the exact moment the correct behaviour is displayed (not 2-3 seconds later).
  • Reinforce the click with good things, namely a treat (preferably a soft one that is easily consumed without distraction).
  • Vary the length of time between the click and the treat.
  • Start new exercises in small steps, clicking and rewarding each step until they can perform the whole exercise in one step.
  • Don’t discipline your dog when they get it wrong. Give them time to experiment and figure it out for themselves.
  • It sounds odd, but don’t pet your dog during the exercise. Your touch will distract them from the exercise.
  • Try not to let your dog see the clicker. It is the sound you want them to be interested in, not the clicker itself.
  • Be patient, this will take a number of sessions. Stop clicker training sessions while your dog is still interested.
How about an example

When starting a new exercise, the best way to use a clicker is to lure your dog (usually with a treat), then click when they get it right.

Ok, let’s teach your dog to SIT

Get your dog’s attention. Using a treat, lure your dog into the sitting position by slowly raising the treat above their head. As soon as they are sitting, press and release the clicker and then after a couple of seconds, reward the dog with the treat.

Once your dog is able to sit within 5 seconds of being offered a treat, it is time to introduce the cue word, which in this case would be SIT.

It can take many repetitions before your dog fully associates the cue word with sitting down. Your objective is for the cue word to trigger the command and not the treat. When you think you are there, be sure to only reward the behaviour when requested.

FURTHER READING

Although based on 19th Century ‘associative learning’ research by Ivan Pavlov, the use of clickers originated in the 1930’s- particularly for the training of marine mammals and birds.

Thanks to Karen Pryor, a renowned dog and dolphin trainer, this technique found its way into dog training in the late 1980s’. Her book ‘Don’t shoot the dog’ became primary reading by those serious about clicker training.

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About Patricia Hunter

Patricia Hunter at Canine Concepts is a qualified full-time dog behaviourist and trainer. Some of the articles on our site were written by Patricia with her full permission to use the literature on our site.

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