Imagine being able to communicate with your dog so that you can quickly train new behaviors while building a fantastic relationship with your four-legged friend?
Well, that’s what the advocates of clicker training believe that this method offers. And our experience tells us that the benefits can be amazing. Clicker training is about using a ‘clicking sound’ to let your dog know the exact moment they have offered the correct behavior. It’s also about breaking the training down so that you train small parts of the behavior rather than waiting to get everything immediately
In this guide, we’ll think about how to get organized to use clicker training. Then we’ll provide an example of how to train a behavior with clicker training before finishing up with the key advantages and disadvantages of this training technique.
How to Use Clicker Training with Your Dog
First, you need a clicker!
Most pet stores now have clickers available for just a few dollars. Now you might be wondering why not just say ‘yes’ to your dog. Well, there are several reasons why a clicker is a better option:
- Your dog hears you talking all the time and may have ‘tuned out’ to the sound of your voice
- The click allows for the exact marking of the correct behavior
- Your dog will learn that ‘click’ means ‘that was right,’ and here comes something good!
Now You Need Some Good Treats
A golden rule of clicker training is that after every click, you reward your dog. Yep, every single time. That’s the promise, ‘I click = you get a treat.’ If you stop rewarding after you click, then the clicker loses its meaning.
A good treat is something smelly that your dog doesn’t need to chew. That way, they want more, and there aren’t long delays while your dog munches through a biscuit!
Training Your Dog to Go to Their Bed
This is a really useful behavior for your dog to have. You could, for example, ask your dog to go to their bed when you have your dinner or when visitors come to the door.
Before you begin training, think about what the end behavior looks like. Then consider all the little steps that you can click and reward to gradually build up until you have that final and complete going to their bed.
So, the training process might look like this:
- Have your treats and clicker ready and have their bed to hand but not on the floor
- Now place the bed on the floor
- The moment your dog looks or interacts with the bed, click and reward
- Now, repeat three times so that your dog begins to look at the bed to get the treat
- Now, wait for your dog to offer the next step. This might be:
- A step towards the bed
- Placing a paw on the bed
- Standing on the bed
- Step by step, slowly build up the behavior
If your dog struggles, look for tiny steps towards the correct behavior until they begin to develop an understanding of what’s required.
When Do I add the Cue?
With some training techniques, you add the cue or command into the training very early in the learning journey. With clicker training, the cue isn’t added until your dog really understands what’s required.
That means that your dog should be reliably offering the behavior with confidence before you add the cue. Wondering why? Well, that’s because clicker training is all about your dog offering the behavior rather than making them do it. So that means that you want to be sure that your dog knows what’s required before asking giving them by giving the cue
Advantages of Clicker Training for Dogs
Training is a Partnership
For many years dog training was all about force and making our dogs do what we wanted them to do. While this got the behaviors such as sit and down, it’s really not how most of us want to interact with our dogs.
With clicker training, the emphasis is on setting up our dogs to be successful and recognizing that if something hasn’t gone to plan, we humans need to take responsibility! Then we can rethink how we set up the training and help our dogs understand what’s required.
Requires No Physical Manhandling of your Dog
Physically forcing your dog into position is just not required with clicker training. It’s all about letting your dog use their brain and make training enjoyable.
The Opportunity to Train Complex Behaviors
Because the clicker can help the dog to understand exactly what’s required, it then becomes possible to train behaviors that were very difficult with other training methods. So, that might be lifting a back leg, twitching an ear, turning their head, or even opening their mouth to allow for a dental check!
Disadvantages of Clicker Training for Dogs
Clicker Training is a Skill That Needs to be Learnt
To be able to successfully communicate with your dog using a clicker, you need to have:
- Great timing to be able to mark the correct behavior at the right time
- Strong observational skills to be able to watch for the correct behavior
- Co-ordination to handle the clicker, treats, and potentially your dog’s leash as well
But, all of these come with practice, so the more you use this technique, the better your skills will become.
Your Dog May Find It Difficult to Offer New Behaviors
Clicker training requires your dog to offer new behaviors without you prompting or luring. So, if you have an older dog who has been trained with other techniques, they may initially find it confusing to be proactive rather than just wait to be told what to do.
But even an old dog can learn new tricks! Making it very easy for your dog and picking behaviors that they enjoy doing are ways of helping your dog understand this new way of learning.
Our Roundup on Clicker Training
Our dogs love clicker training: they only need to see the clicker to get excited about learning something new! Once they understood what the ‘game’ was, they now love the chance to be inventive and to ‘make us’ click.
Now, as we’ve mentioned, this method does take a little time to get to grips with, and it might all feel a little messy, to begin with. But stick with it, keep things simple, and soon your dog will be learning the kinds of behavior you never thought were possible!