Clickers and treats – a forever thing?

Clients are often put off by the idea of needing a clicker and treats every time they are with their dog.  The question then is “Do I have to use the clicker and treats forever?”

“Is that a trick question?” I answer.  What clickers do for trainer/owners is keep them focused and consistent with the training.  Coincidentally, clickers and treats help keep the dog focused and learning.  It’s a win/win.  Of course, I have a clicker in every pocket and a bag of treats wherever I go.  I guess you would expect that.  Here are my observations regarding owners new to clicker training:  1)  Clicker training is easy but it takes some practice,  2) Often owners forget to click and the dog may or may not respond to the command.  If you are late to click, skip it for this one exercise so you don’t confuse Fido  3) Owners don’t want their dogs to get fat.  Owners don’t want their dog to work only for treats.

And here’s what I know:  1)  Until the dog is offering the correct behavior to the command (whether verbal or signal) 100% of the time, continue to train with the clicker.  Once a dog understands a command you can quit clicking.  If he needs a refresher in a few days or weeks, blow the dust off the clicker and use it again.  I’m assuming that you will continue to train your dog to do new commands, tricks and amazing feats and you might use a clicker forever but the requested behaviors will change over time;  2)  remember that using a clicker helps you stay focused and concentrating on the timing.  Use the clicker until you are flawless in your delivery and you are confident that you  are always marking the correct behavior, and; 3) keep those treats the size of a pea.  It really is not a treat as think of it, it is a reinforcer and a reward for a specific behavior.  I have a dog who likes Cheerios, so experiment, change it up and reward only exemplary behavior with chicken livers.  Believe me, dogs do understand the difference in the reward system.   You can substitute “good dog”,  a toy, or a few touches in lieu of food rewards.  I doubt you would like it if your boss quit rewarding your extraordinary performance at work.  It’s kind of the same thing.  Think about it.

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