Have you ever wanted to teach your dog more than the sit-stay-roll over standard set of tricks? Clicker training dogs can make it possible, so long as you’re willing to put in the time and effort. In fact, clicker training can be a great way to train your dog. With just a simple click, you can begin to teach your furry best friend all those commands you’ve wanted to brag to your friends about.
Before we dive too deep into how to clicker train your dog, let’s take a quick look at how clicker training came about. The more you understand about clicker training, the more successful you’ll be at implementing it with your dog.
History of Clicker Training Dogs
One of the founders of clicker training actually began by using the concept with dolphins. Karen Pryor implemented operant conditioning in the 1960s as a way to positively influence her trainees into performing the actions she wanted. She wrote about this approach in her book Don’t Shoot the Dog. Since then, she has written many other works aimed at helping pet owners understand how to interact with their fluffy loved ones on a new level.
The idea behind clicker training for dogs is simple: when (and if) a dog performs a desired action, they hear a click or similarly-neutral sound, and then receive a treat. Timing is key, alongside consistency.
In many ways we are conditioned this way as well, both positively and negatively. Most of us associate our alarm clocks with having to get up and start the day, but the beep-beep-beep of the microwave means we’ve got something savory in the works. Emergency sirens indicate trouble while our favorite song might mean a loved one is calling our cell phone. Sounds play a big part in our lives, whether we remark upon it or not.
Are you considering clicker training, now that you know a little bit more about it? Read just a bit further to learn more about the arguments for and against clicker training dogs. Stacked up against one another, these reasons might help you decide whether or not you’ll try clicker training for your dog.
Clicker Training Dogs: Is it right for you and your canine?
If you’re still unsure about the effectiveness of clicker training, take a look at the pros and cons of clicker training dogs. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if clicker training is right for you and your dog.
Pros of Clicker Training
- Lots of rewards encourage your dog.
- Short, repetitious motions create the greatest impact
- Rewards are used, rather than discipline
- Clicker timing reinforces good behaviors instantly
- Great relationship-building exercise for you and your dog
As you can see, there are a number of benefits to you and your dog that comes with using clicker training. Positive associations are made by the dog during different behaviors, so there’s always a chance for a treat if they act well-mannered. By taking an encouraging approach, rather than disciplinary action, your dog will not only associate good behavior with rewards, but interactions with you as a positive experience.
Cons of Clicker Training
Clicker training isn’t for every dog and their owner(s). Here are some of the arguments against clicker training.
- Clicker training is based upon treat rewards, so if your dog isn’t motivated by food, you’ll have a more difficult time during training.
- Improper clicker training can negatively impact a dog’s training.
- Clicker training takes time and patience
- Effective clicker training must be upheld over time.
There are reasons why (good) dog trainers are feverishly sought out and well-paid. It takes great attention to detail and a patient but persistent person to continue to reward a dog’s good behavior, no matter what kind of training they’re using. Clicker training is no different.
If you think clicker training might be right for you and your dog, keep reading! We’ll introduce you to the main concepts behind clicker training dogs and how you can clicker train your dog, even if you’ve never heard of the practice before. Just like any training, all it takes is time, a bit of effort, and of course—treats!
Clicker Training Dogs: Here’s How It’s Done
Before you begin clicker training your dog, there’s one simple fact you need to establish: the clicking of the clicker means a reward. This is a simple meaning to ingrain into your dog’s mind, because you can easily actuate the clicker and then give your dog a treat. The American Kennel Club recommends beginning with 10 treats. After you’ve clicked the clicker, feed your dog a treat. Wait until they are finished eating the tiny morsel and then click the clicker again, feeding them a treat as close to the clicker emitting the click as you can. Continue this until all the treats are gone and your dog should definitely have made the connection between click and “treat.”
What’s most important in clicker training your dog is keeping their attention focused upon their own behavior and the reward. You want to make the pathway between action and reward as clear as possible so that they can positively associate one with the other.
Therefore, it’s best to minimize the distractions around you and your dog so they can focus upon you and your actions. Training-Your-Dog-and-You.com warns that if you don’t remove distracting elements of the environment, your dog could associate the clicker training with “superstitious behaviors,” or those based on the emotions produced by the environment surrounding them. As we’ll discuss in the next section, dogs are especially susceptible to emotional input, so minimizing these instinctual reactions will increase the effectiveness of the clicker training overall.
Karen Pryor gives 15 great tips on her website for those who need a refresher course on how to clicker train and/or for those just starting out. It’s important that pet owners understand the thought process behind the training, so they can be more effective in their instruction. “Click and treat for small movements in the right direction,” suggests Pryor. Simple behaviors are easier to teach and reward than complex movements, but these very same simple behaviors can become the steps to a diverse number of advanced behaviors.
Once you’ve begun to encourage your dog to perform behaviors it knows will result in a reward, it’s the perfect moment to introduce a command or a cue. This verbal cue prompts the dog to perform a certain action. The clicker then confirms the desired action has been accomplished and the resulting treat reinforces the positive associations the dog has with said action. After a few tries, your dog will begin to realize that the word “sit” means it should plant its hindquarters on the ground, because if it does this successfully, it will receive yummy treats!
There you have it! Clicker training dogs is a simple process, really, but as we’ve mentioned, it does take time and patience. Some dogs will learn faster than others, while it may take time to understand what motivates your dog and what will prompt them to listen to the clicker and perform the desired actions.
If you’re wondering why it’s called “clicker” training and not “voice” or “sound” training, skip to the next section. We’ve got the answer for you. But first, read some of the common myths out there about clicker training and see what you learn.
The biggest misconception dog owners have about clicker training dogs is that the clicker will have to become part of their routine forever. This is not true. In fact, once your dog has learned the appropriate cue, the clicker is no longer necessary. The clicker is a tool, not a substitute for proper training.
Secondly, clickers are not the only tool you can use when training your dog. Any device that makes a noise will suffice. If your dog is afraid of one clicker or doesn’t particularly respond well, try another one with a different noise. There are many clickers on the market today, so choosing the right one isn’t too hard if you take the time to look.
Finally, it is possible to clicker train dogs in a group setting. That is, dog owners just like you can use clickers in the same vicinity and their dogs will be able to decipher which clicks are meant for them and which are directed towards other dogs. This is true if a dog is able to focus upon their owner and basically block out the rest of the world during training sessions. A focused dog is a trainable dog.
Clicker training dogs isn’t the only method that can be used. Scroll down a bit further to see what other types of training you can try if clicker training isn’t particularly effective. All the same, give clicker training a try and see if it helps your dog learn and maintain their manners.
Clickers vs. Marker Words
Clicker training dogs relies on using a repeatable, neutral noise to notify a dog that the behavior they’ve just exhibited is encouraged, accompanied by a treat or reward, of course. However, some might argue that using any noise to signal this encouragement would have the same effect. This is in some ways true, but there is more to the big picture than just a simple sound.
For example, we associate laughter with happiness and crying with sadness. It’s something we pick up at an early age. Now, there are obviously different types of laughter and weeping. Sometimes when we hear a laugh we want to laugh too but other times we just feel a bit weirded out. There are many factors that could potentially play a part in our response, but this is similar to what a dog experiences when hearing a noise associated with a particular reaction.
Basic training relies on this response to an audible sound. When we say “sit,” we want the dog to lean back on their haunches. This is in effect a marker word, or a command we give as owners that lets our dog know, “I want you to perform this associated action.” But not everyone says “sit” in the same way and the same person doesn’t often say “sit” exactly the same every time.
Thus, the differences between using a marker word and using clicker training are based on the sound itself. Dogs respond to our emotional cues as well, whether we note them or not, so using a neutral sound, like a click, helps to evoke the same behavior without adding emotions to the mix. The emotion you should be invoking is one of pleasure, because the dog should associate the click with a tasty reward.
If trainers were to use a marker word as the trigger, the dog could read more into the inflection than the word itself. Maybe you’re getting frustrated with your dog because they’re not responding how you want them to. The next time you command them, you might add a bit of anger into the word itself. Dogs can pick up on this tension, so instead of happily associating your command with “I did something good, so now I get a tasty treat,” they’re likely to associate it with a stressful environment. This will undo all the hard work you’ve accomplished thus far if you allow this to happen.
For these reasons, and many more, clicker training is in many ways a more effective way to train your dog than using simple voice commands or marker words. The clicker is a repeatable, neutral noise the dog can freely associate with treats. They won’t be able to pick up any emotions from the noise, except for those they begin to associate it with after you’ve conditioned them to think so.
Now that you know a bit more about how to clicker train your dog and why it’s a good idea to use a clicker rather than a marker word, let’s consider a few good practices to keep in mind as you begin training.
Best Clicker Training Practices
If you’re new to the idea of clicker training dogs, it’s okay! Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Begin with a few sessions to get comfortable and progress as you feel more confident.
- It’s not as important to reward every good behavior, but to emphasize the ones you really want to make sure your dog knows well.
- Though you want to minimize distractions, reward behaviors the dog performs naturally. This will help them make the transition from what they already do to actions you’d like them to perform.
- Add cues when you feel comfortable your dog is understanding you. Cues may take a few repetitions to become part of the process.
Ready to get started? We’ve already made out a shopping list for you. Check out the supplies you’ll need below and in no time at all, you’ll be clicker training your dog(s) like a pro!
Clicker Training Dogs--What Supplies Do You Need?
All you need to begin clicker training your dog is a clicker and some treats. Why not make the most of it and take your dog to the pet store with you? Then they can sniff along the aisles and pick out their favorite treats. If you can, get small morsel sizes so you don’t ruin your dog’s next big meal. Breaking larger treats into small chunks is another alternative if you can’t find what you need in a smaller size.
Clickers are generally available at most pet stores, but you can also order them online if you’d like. It’s best to try a few clickers you can find locally in case your dog reacts negatively to the sound a certain clicker makes. If the sound itself already puts them into a bad mindset, your clicker training is doomed from the start.
Another way to find a good clicker is to ask fellow dog owners at the dog park or in your neighborhood. These pet parents might also offer tips on clicker training and share their experiences with you in regard to what worked and what didn’t. Since most people have dogs of different temperaments, find a dog whose personality is similar to your own furry friend and discuss with their owner how they responded to clicker training. You might find they used a trick or two to keep their dog motivated, focused, and/or any other methods they implemented to increase the effectiveness of their clicker training.
It’s never too late to start clicker training your dog—but is there such a thing as starting too early? Let’s take a closer look.
When to Start Clicker Training your Dog
Puppies can turn even the sourest of souls into baby-talking delightful people, but after spending a few hours with even one tiny bundle of fur, you might be feeling a little sour yourself. With only a few hours logged on the timesheet of their lives, puppies aren’t aware of the rules of the world—yet. It’s your job to educate them, with no small amount of TLC, of course.
Karen Pryor’s website devotes an entire page to clicker training puppies, wherein Director Lori Chamberland argues that the more training you provide, the faster bad behaviors will disappear. Without direction, puppies are sure to run amok, but by providing gentle guidance and positive reinforcement, you can prevent disasters from happening even before those little paws take one step down the wrong path.
Just like with adult dogs, positive association is key. When your puppy is doing something you like, click and reward. Chamberland notes most puppies will sit on their own accord, so rewarding this behavior is a great way to establish the relationship between clicking and treats. Along with house training and proper people etiquette, promoting small behaviors you want to cultivate with a treat allows the puppy to quickly understand when they do something good and when they don’t.
For other useful tips and helpful hints on how to clicker train your puppy, visit Karen Pryor’s website and read more of what Lori Chamberland has to say. When it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and your puppy is wailing at the moon, you’ll thank Lori for her great advice.
Other Methods for Training your Dog
Clicker training is just one of many methods aimed at getting your dog to do what you want. Training is very much a language built between you and your dog. As long as you understand that concept, the rest is as easy as figuring out how your dog thinks and what their motivations are.
Alongside clicker training, there exists a variety of training methods. You might have seen some of them practiced on TV shows or even at your local pet supply store, but each training method has its own set of pros and cons. Here are just a few common training methods:
Other training methods include dominance, positive reinforcement (which can include clicker training), electronic, mirror, and relationship-based training. Each of these methods has its own set of pros and cons. While finding the right training for you and your dog can be a bit difficult depending on your situation, once you’ve found the best method, training should come easily.
If you’re interested in learning more about these methods above, a quick Google search will provide the most basic answers. You can also speak to your local dog trainers and see what approaches they take with their clients. After spending a few minutes with your dog, they might even be able to recommend a type of training that fits your dog’s personality the best.
The most important thing to remember when training your dog is that your relationship should be based on a sense of trust and understanding. When you can communicate effectively with your pet, you will both enjoy your time together more. Invest some time in your furry friend and show them how much you care.