Clicker training is one of the easiest and most effective ways of training your dog, but how do they work, why are they good, and also.. why do some people think clicker training is bad?
What is a clicker?
To start from the beginning, a clicker is simply a small plastic device that makes a distinctive “click” sound when pressed. The clicker has no value or meaning of its own but can quickly be conditioned to represent access to “good things” to your dog.
As a simple device a clicker will only set you back a few bucks from Pet Circle or your store of choice.
How does a clicker work?
By clicking once then immediately treating with a small titbit, your dog learns the association that “click” means “good job” – you’ve earned a reward!
You’ll be training your dog to behave as you want, while your dog thinks he’s training you to click!
Dogs enjoy the mental challenge of the clicker training game as they grow to realise how their behaviour determines the rewards.
A clicker is better than “good dog”!
Did you know a clicker is more effective than simply saying “good dog”?
There are two main reasons for this:
One is that it is a very distinctive sound, completely unlike human speech. Dogs quickly learn that each and every click has a significance for them (leads to rewards). On the other hand, by necessity dogs learn to “tune out” most human words because the majority of words don’t have any significance for them.
Secondly, the clicker is much quicker than spoken words. To be effective a reward should be delivered within one second of the behaviour you wish to reinforce. In practice, this can be very difficult.
In the few extra seconds, a dog can do lots of different things – how does your dog know which action earned the treat? Was it the sit or jumping up and licking your face?
The clicker pinpoints exactly which behaviour it is that you liked and “bridges” the time between the behaviour and the reward.
Interesting fact: Dolphin trainers have been using this type of training for years using a whistle instead of a clicker. When the dolphin jumps, the trainer blows a whistle to let the dolphin know, “Yes, I liked that, come and get a fish.”
The clicker tells your dog, “I liked that and you’ve earned a reward.”
How to get started with clicker training
You can start clicker training your dog or puppy from the first day you bring it home.
Click and reward for all the behaviours you like: sitting, lying quietly, even toileting in the right spot.
You don’t have to use the clicker for just one behaviour at a time – click and reward all the behaviours you would like to see become part of your dog’s usual repertoire. This is called opportunity training or “free shaping”, and means you simply watch, click and reward. The behaviours you click will increase in frequency while the behaviours that have not been clicked will begin to extinguish.
Clicker training works for dogs of all ages and personalities
Puppies are a special delight to clicker train, as they grasp the “training game” very quickly. It’s not only puppies that benefit, as clicker training can be just as effective on dogs of all ages and personalities!
Dogs who may have had a bad association with previous training methods or who are very timid often blossom under this no-pressure, no-threat system of training.
Amazingly clicker training works equally well with pushy dogs who learn that to gain rewards they have to stop being a bully and THINK what it is that will make their owner CLICK!
The advantages of using a clicker
There are many benefits to using a clicker for training your dog:
- A clicker is a short, sharp clear sound, very different to the human voice.
- Dogs, by necessity, “tune out” most of what we say as it does not apply to them. They soon learn the clicker is their special sound.
- Clicker training will help you to say less to your dog and observe more.
- Dogs communicate mainly by body language. It is only fair that we learn a bit about their “language” instead of expecting them only to learn our verbal one.
- Understanding your dog’s movements will make training easier.
- or most people, clicking requires a more conscious effort than speaking does, making you more aware of timing your rewards.
- Once your dog understands click means treat, you don’t need to have food in sight to reward your dog. You can keep treats hidden in your pocket or on the table.
- Click and treat training automatically teaches your dog to pay attention to you – without force.
- It opens the channels of communication between you and your dog. You’ll think you’re training him, while your dog will think he’s training YOU to click!
- Training time will become the best time you spend with your dog. The training game itself becomes rewarding to your dog.
Using a clicker effectively – important things for you to consider!
Think of your clicker as a battery operated camera. You’re going to use your clicker to take snapshots of all the things you like your dog to do (sitting, lying down, keeping four feet on the ground when visitors arrive, etc.)
To keep the battery in your camera charged, you have to follow each click with a treat. If you click without treating, the clicker like the camera would cease to work.
The clicker is just a training tool that helps you communicate with your dog. Once your dog fully understands a new behaviour you don’t need to use the clicker any more – your dog has “passed the test” with this behaviour, meaning you can move on to something new.
The clicker ends a behaviour – it doesn’t matter what the dog does after the click (the photo is already taken, remember), he has already earned his reward.
When you want to extend the time your dog sits or downs, simply delay the click. Start with just a few seconds, then build slowly. The click will end the exercise, releasing your dog from position.
Why is clicker training bad?
Most dog owners I work with have a lot of success with clicker training, but experience has shown it does not work for all dogs. Quite often this is because the technique used by the owner isn’t efficient, such as being inconsistent in what the dog is rewarded for. Some dogs simply aren’t treat motivated, or the clicker training is done after they’ve already had a good feed.
Mastering the art of clicker training is essential. Don’t worry, it’s fairly easy to get right once you consider the information in this guide (and maybe a few YouTube videos and consideration). But you must have a good technique, be consistent, and be patient.
If clicker training isn’t working for your dog, or they’re not motivated by treats, then there are other ways to train your dog which may prove more successful.
Even though some consider clicker training as bad, there is no real evidence to suggest this is true. It just doesn’t work for some dog owners or some dogs. Most professional dog trainers, including myself, find clicker training to be highly effective in teaching dogs new behaviours or reinforcing positive behaviour.
What are your experiences with clicker training? Let us know in the comments!