Clicker Training

The Clicker is widely regarded as the greatest breakthrough in modern animal training.  This simple piece of metal and plastic clarifies (in the dogs mind), what is expected of him at a point in time without stress and confusion.

When used during the initial phases of training, learning comes quickly. Here’s why:  Think of the click as telling your dog he is doing something right at a split second in time.  The clicker is valuable because it improves the timing of our communication with our dogs. To communicate to the dog that you want a particular behavior to increase, you must communicate it the instant the desired behavior occurs. The clicker allows us to use this simple thought process to help a dog understand what we want. It does not muddle the learning process with the frustration that other methods often create for both dogs and people.

Clicker Conditioning:

The Clicker has to be paired, or associated with, something a dog finds pleasing.  A small, bite-sized food reward is most commonly used. The key is to select something that motivates your dog. The first step is to pair the click with a piece of food. Simply click and immediately offer a piece of food to your dog. With this conditioning a dog will usually catch on to the click-reward association in a day or two. Once the dog understands that the click means a food reward is coming, begin to reward obedience, or any behavior that you wish to occur more often with a click-reward.  Do not click the get the dog’s attention. If you do you will actually be rewarding the act of looking away.  Remember, the click means that whatever behavior is occurring when the sound occurs is the “correct” or desired behavior.

What if my dog doesn’t like treats?

Find a reward that does motivate your pet. This may take some experimentation. Some dogs do better with a few special treats that are saved specifically for training (turkey, hot dog slices, string cheese, chicken, Cheerios, etc.). Try to find a treat that is soft and small. If you feed a large crunchy biscuit, the dog will spend his time investigating the floor for crumbs and not paying attention to you. It can be useful to feed our dog, depending on its age, at two scheduled meal times. Training sessions can then be performed just prior to mealtime when the dog is at its hungriest. You can also withhold treats until training time. Don’t give your dog treats for no reason – it just fills him up, and accomplishes nothing. Consider these tid bits not as treats, but as “training rewards.” This makes them more motivating. Dogs that are difficult to motivate are usually the hardest to train.  If your dog still will not accept food there are other techniques available to train your dog.

Using the clicker to reinforce good behavior:

Take sit for example. Give the command, “Sit’. Assist your dog into the sit position by holding the food up and over your dog’s nose, and moving it slowly backwards. This will cause his rear to drop into a sit. The instant his rear touches the ground, click and reward with the piece of food. Praise should follow, then a release command (Free, Okay).  Assist your dog into the sit position by gently guiding his rear end down with your hand, if needed. Your dog’s age, temperament, and how much time you can devote to training will determine how much time you will spend in this phase. After your dog is beginning to show an understanding by anticipating your commands, you should then tell your dog to sit without showing him the food. If he does not sit, give him a gentle pop up on the leash while guiding him into the sit with your hands. Once he sits, click and give him the piece of food.

*   Down- say “down” and draw the food down to the floor under Fido’s nose, guiding him down. Help with your hand on his shoulder blades if needed, but do not try to force him into position, he will probably just lock up. Use a rocking motion, side to side, to help Fido lie down. Once fully in the down (elbows touching the floor, rear down) click and reward.

*   Place- say “place” and guide the dog up on to the place platform or bed. Once all four feet are up on the place, click and reward. You can initially guide the dog up with the food, or the leash.

*   Walking on a loose leash- click and reward when your dog is in the “heel” position that you prefer. For attention getters, call your dog’s name, and when he turns around towards you, click and reward. If your dog does not respond to his name, give a gentle “attention getter pop” on the leash. The second he turns to you, click and reward.

*    Come when called: Call your dog. When your dog turns and starts coming towards you – click. When he gets to you, reward with a treat and praise. If you call your dog and nothing happens, use your long line and give a pop on the leash. The second he turns and starts coming towards you, click, praise, and reward when he gets to you.

Lastly, comes the proofing stage. This is where you can and should expect greater performance and reliability from your dog in everyday situations. Now with no food visible, ask your dog to sit in gradually more distracting situations. If you feel that your dog will not immediately sit for you, give him a pop on the leash, to reinforce the command, then click/ reward when he sits. Gradually diminish the use of the clicker and treats, always praise when your dog does what is asked of him. Anytime you feel your dog is confused back up a step in your training and break the exercises down into smaller increments.

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