BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

Clicker Dog Training: Methods & Tips To Make The Training Process Easier

Clicker dog training
John Walton
Written by John Walton

It is important to participate in some form of training with your dog in order to make sure that he is well-behaved and obedient. One of the keys to doing so is finding a training method that works and that you can both enjoy. One of the most widely used techniques at the moment is clicker dog training. It is highly effective and has a long list of benefits for both dogs and owners.

It is also inexpensive and very easy to pick up. Lots of dog owners prefer this type of training because it uses only positive reinforcement which is much healthier for your dog’s general well being than methods that use punishments or harsh words.

What is clicker dog training?

Clicker dog training is widely considered to be one of the most effective ways to train your pet. It uses positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors in your dog. Over time, your dog will learn to associate the sound of the clicker with receiving a treat and/or praise. This gently encourages them to behave in an appropriate manner on hearing the click so that they earn their reward.

Clicker training

This particular type of training is especially popular because it is considered humane as opposed to using other controversial methods including choke chains, overly assertive commands and physical punishments which can cause stress and emotional trauma in dogs. Studies indicate that positive reinforcement and, in particular clicker training, get far better results as well as being better for your dog. It’s definitely recommended for even the most basic lessons, so why not give it a try by pairing a clicker with the methods described in this article on basic obedience training?

The benefits of clicker training

If you have been considering clicker dog training, but have not quite decided whether or not it is the best training method for your dog then you might be interested in finding out more about the many benefits that can be associated with this particular method of training.

  • Clicker training can build confidence
    Since clicker training uses only positive reinforcement, your dog is going to feel naturally confident and will not be afraid of making mistakes. They will feel confident in trying new things because they know that the worst that can happen is not getting their treat. When a dog is more confident they are more likely to succeed.
  • Using a clicker is fun for everyone
    One of the best things about learning how to use a dog clicker with your pet is that it is lots fun both for you and the dog! Positive reinforcement works both ways – the dog is happy because he is getting praise and even treats for his efforts and you are happy because you are seeing the progress that your furry friend is making and that is going to make you feel great!
  • The positive reinforcement strengthens the pet-owner bond
    Any activity that ends up in spending time with your dog is going to help strengthen the bond between you. However, with clicker dog training especially, you are going to be building up a strong method of communication. Positive reinforcement is going to encourage the dog to trust you completely and this is going to spread to other areas of your relationship outside of training. Dogs are pack animals and they follow the leader because they respect and trust them. Clicker training is going to help you to grow into that sort of a leader for your dog.
  • Clicker dog training teaches the dog to want to obey you
    Following on from this talk of pack leaders, there is a misconception that dogs follow the leader because they are the most dominant. This is true to a certain extent, but dominance is not shown by physical aggression. When you use clicker training, your dog will respond to positive reinforcement and will obey you because he wants to do so. A leader who has to force compliance is not really a leader at all, but a bully. A great pack leader earns the dog’s trust and respect and that is what is going to inspire loyalty and obedience.
  • It is a highly efficient form of training
    There is no shortcut to training your dog, but one thing that you will find with clicker dog training is that it is a fairly fast and efficient way to train your dog. Short, frequent training sessions are most effective when you are learning how to use a dog clicker which means that anyone can find the time to fit it into their schedule. Studies have indicated that clicker training can be one of the fastest techniques for teaching new behaviors, especially in the initial stages of training.
  • Clickers can encourage creativity & initiative in dogs
    One of the most interesting benefits of clicker training for dogs is that it can actively encourage your pet to use their initiative and to be more creative in their approach to problem solving. Dogs who are clicker trained know that they need to work to earn that reward, but they are not afraid to try. When the dog knows that there is nothing to lose they will use their initiative and give it a go!
  • There is less chance of human error with clicker training
    The issue with using verbal commands alone, or choke chains and similar methods is that they only work if they are used correctly. As human beings, we are bound to make mistakes. We might use the wrong command, use an over aggressive tone or use the choke chain incorrectly. This can not only derail your training efforts, but could actually harm your dog emotionally or physically.
    With clicker dog training there is less chance to make such mistakes. For example if you and your partner both work with the dog you are both using a clicker rather than you each maybe using different commands (off/down is a common confusion).
  • You can build a structure that your dog will follow
    Dogs need structure and boundaries and clicker training is a great way to build these up. Your dog is going to find it easy to understand which makes following it much easier for him. It is because of this that clicker training can actually be used to teach fairly complex and very precise behaviors.

How to clicker train a dog

Anyone can learn how to clicker train a dog, it is a relatively simple concept and with a little practice you will soon find it a great way to train your canine companion.

How to clicker train

Here is a basic step by step guide that will help you learn how to use this training method.

  1. The first step is to make sure that you fully understand what positive reinforcement actually is. In simple terms, it is rewarding good behavior instead of punishing negative behavior. Instead of punishing or physically correcting your dog when they make a mistake, you will reward them with a click and a treat when they do a good job.
  2. It is also important to learn how to use a dog clicker properly. The click noise is not the reward – it is a marker to let your dog know that they have done the right thing and a reward will follow. You must reward the dog after sounding the clicker. The dog is going to associate this distinctive sound with a reward.
  3. Once you have a good understanding of the basics you are going to be ready to actively start training your dog. The first thing to do is teach him to associate the click with a reward. This is sometimes known as ‘loading the clicker’. Begin by simply sounding the clicker and immediately feeding a small treat, or lavishing praise on the dog. When you repeat this over and over your dog soon learns that the distinctive click means a treat is coming. Once this association is made you can begin to introduce new commands.
  4. Start with basic commands such as sitting or lying down. Ask your dog to sit and when he does you should immediately click and treat to show that this is correct. Repeat this until the command is second nature to the dog, then you can move onto something new! If you are struggling to get your dog to perform the desired behavior then check out the next section on methods to encourage good behavior.
  5. When you are confident that your dog understands a couple of commands and is responding to the clicker training, you might want to start adding in some visual cues. For example if you want your dog to give a paw you could try holding out your palm for him, or for lie down you might tap the floor.
  6. As soon as your dog is confident with the basic commands you can start expanding on your clicker training by addressing existing bad behaviors such as barking at the door or jumping up on visitors. It will take a lot of time and patience, but you can eventually get rid of this behavior. When your dog starts to bark at the door, you should wait until he is quiet and then click and reward. Continue doing this, gradually building in a command to stop barking. In time, the dog is going to learn that barking does not result in a reward, but staying quiet will.

How to encourage good behaviors

While using clicker training there are several different ways that you can encourage your dog to perform the desired behavior. The common methods are catching, shaping and luring.

Rewarding your dog after clicker training

Let’s take a closer look at each of these methods of encouraging good behaviors.

Catching

Catching is the easiest method for beginners and it involves simply catching your dog in the act of doing the right behavior. Let’s use lying down as an example. This is something that your dog already does on his own, so it is an easy one to train him to do on command.

Stand in the room with your dog and just wait. It is likely that after a short time he will choose to lie down of his own accord. When he does, you instantly click on your clicker and offer a treat. Then start again. With enough repetition your dog will begin to anticipate that you want him to lie down and will do so in order to earn his treat.

Shaping

Shaping is a more difficult method and it is best used for the more complex behaviors as you progress with your clicker training. You can use it for chain behaviors that your dog is not naturally doing on his own, for example lifting his paw for you. In order to shape this behavior you are going to have to click and reward after several smaller actions.

For example, at the beginning you might click as soon as the dog shifts his weight onto one leg. Once this is happening every time you will wait and click when he raises it slightly. You can then extend this by waiting until it is a little higher until eventually he will perform a full paw raise on command.

Clicker training for dog

This same method can be used for more complex behavior such as going to fetch something for you.

Luring

The luring method is exactly what it sounds like – using a treat to guide the dog towards a specific position. You would hold it right in front of your dog and then moving it to encourage him to follow. A good example would be in teaching your dog how to lie down on command.

You could start with the treat in front of his face and then move it very slowly down to his chest and then to the floor. He will hopefully follow the treat and sink to the floor with it at which point you click and allow him to have the treat. Over time you can remove the treat and use a similar hand motion.

Tips to remember during clicker training

It might be a little overwhelming at first, but just remember to take things slow and work on one thing at a time. Start small and build on it gradually. Here are a few helpful hints that will keep you on the right track.

  • If you have more than one dog, do not use the same clicker for both. You are going to need a distinctive sound for each of your dogs. You can try clickers that make different sounds or perhaps use a buzzer or bell for one of them and a clicker for the other.
  • It is important not to randomly click the clicker outside of training. The dog needs to associate it with getting a reward, so if you just click it for the sake of it then clicker training is not going to work. If you have a habit of fiddling with things then make sure your clicker is out of reach when not in use!
  • Do not give up if your dog seems to not like the noise of the clicker. Some dogs are sensitive to noise. You can start off by taping a cotton ball to the metal tab so that the noise is dulled a little. As the dog gets used to the sound you can remove the cotton and get him used to the full sound.
  • Timing is everything. You must click instantly on seeing the behavior you are looking for. Some people find it helps to think of the clicker as a camera. In order to catch the perfect shot you need to be quick!
  • When training a new behavior it is smart to start in a quiet area with no distractions. However, as your dog gains confidence with that particular action it is best to try it in different locations such as outside, or with others present. This helps your dog to be confident performing the action in any given situation. After all, we need obedience from our dogs all the time – not just in a quiet room!
  • Keep your training sessions short, otherwise your dog could end up getting bored.
  • Don’t train your dog when you are in a bad mood. It is meant to be fun for both of you and when you are grumpy or distracted you won’t get the best out of the session. Dogs can sense out emotions and will pick up on your mood.

In conclusion, clicker dog training is perhaps one of the most effective methods of training that you can choose for your dog. It carries numerous different benefits and will be a rewarding experience for both you and your pet.

Dog clicker training

Like any type of training it is going to take time, effort and dedication but the end result is well worth the hard work. There is no need to punish your dog, simply choose to use positive reinforcement and the results will speak for themselves.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • Jane Lewis

    I’m not the most familiar with clicker training, but I’m glad that this article managed to impart a lot of things regarding it. However an addition of some recommended clickers (that won’t break easily) would have been appreciated for those of us who are pretty much newly introduced to clickers and have no prior experience with them. Just my thoughts.

    • John Walton

      The key to a successful clicker training is the gradual introduction of training to the dogs. It should not be an overflow of tricks and stuff all in one go. It is not an easy task, but definitely worth the challenge when it comes to patience and consistency.

  • Vanessa Rogers

    My bestfriend bought a training clicker and introduced it to her lovely Golden Retriever. However, the clicker terrified her dog so much. The Golden hates the sound of it, running off and hiding when she clicks.

    What do we do now? Any ideas please.

    • John Walton

      Desensitization can be done for dogs that are afraid of undergoing clicker training. 15-minute sessions per day can be done, and the duration can be gradually increased.

  • Patricia Parket

    When should dog owners start clicker training? My neighbor has a 9 month old puppy with a short attention span. She started using the clicker, but the playful puppy doesn’t seem to respond, preferring to run
    around instead. What is she doing wrong? Does she have to wait a few more months till the pup is ready?

    • John Walton

      Clicker training can be done at any possible time, but I recommend starting not earlier than three months to make sure that the physical and mental capacity is not too underdeveloped. I think the problem is socialization and consistency.

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