What is clicker training?

Maybe a better question is why is clicker training effective?

The beauty of the clicker is that it marks a behavior faster than words or treats can by themselves.  Training is faster and easier.  Whether young or old clicker training is equally effective.  Rescued dogs who have questionable backgrounds can appreciate a different way of learning where there is no negative punishment or harsh corrections.

There a number of clickers that are available. They are inexpensive so buy several, one for each person who will be training your pet and a couple of spares.  I recommend a ‘big button’ clicker which is easily useable when wearing gloves and better for folks who may have arthritic hands.

Marking behavior – what does this mean?  When your dog offers the behavior you are looking for, click immediately.  This marks the behavior in the dog’s brain.  Treat after the click to reinforce the behavior.  And here’s the magic of clicker training – the reinforcer.  This can be food or a toy.  Once a dog learns a behavior using a clicker, he will know it forever.

One way to begin is to show the dog the clicker just a few inches in front of its nose.  If he looks at the clicker, click and treat.  Hold the clicker in a slightly different position and again click and treat when if focuses on the clicker.  Do this few times.  If he looks for the treat you may be offering the treat too soon after the click.  A nice rhythm is a four count process.  1 – the focus, 2 – the click 3 – pause, 4 – treat.  The timing of the click is important as we want to mark the behavior precisely when it is given.

Training sessions need not be more than 2 – 3 minutes and a focus exercise can be successfully completed in the time it takes to reheat a cup of coffee in the microwave.  After the dog is successfully focusing on the clicker, wait a bit longer and the dog will no doubt move towards the clicker and may move right on to putting his nose on the clicker.  Click and treat.  Now you can begin to move the clicker to the other side of his head or closer to the floor and as long as he continues to put nose to the clicker you reinforcing the focus task.  This is important and will become more apparent as continue with this training.

Make it fun, turn it into a game, keep the sessions short so he doesn’t get bored.  We want our dog to look forward to training and know there are fun times ahead when he sees the clicker.

Next up – do I have to use the clicker forever?  Are my pockets always full of treats?

Leave a reply