How to… clicker train a dog
Are you gearing up to start training your new dog or puppy?
Let’s take a look at how using a clicker can help both of you.
How does clicker training work?
A clicker is a small handheld device used for training dogs, cats and other pets (including horses!) It’s usually a convenient and effect technique, and proves popular with many owners.
The idea behind clicker training is to identify the exact moment your dog does something you want them to, i.e. sit down, look at you. Instead of responding verbally to their good behaviour, you’d respond with a ‘click’ and a treat.
Although verbal rewards are encouraged, clicker training is far more precise at identifying the exact thing your dog is being rewarded for. Often our timing isn’t great: by the time ‘Good dog’ has left your mouth, your dog has stood up again and fidgeted, so it’s not always clear what they’re being rewarded for!
Benefits of clicker training your dog or puppy
Clicker training can be preferable for many reasons:
- The dog is responding to a consistent ‘click’ sound, rather than the voices of different family members and their different praise words.
- It’s emotionless i.e. your dog finally sits down after several attempts and you praise them in a relieved tone – the clicker doesn’t do this, it stays the same.
- A click is a short and memorable sound – speech may last too long and be harder for your dog to associate with the action they performed when they were rewarded.
Before you begin clicker training, make sure you’re stocked up with tasty treats. It’s a good idea to vary your selection: using one set of treats (cooked meats) for new tricks and another (traditional dog treats) for better-established tricks often works well.
Nominate one area in the house to be your training space. If possible, try to choose somewhere quiet and free of distractions.
You won’t need loads of time to train your dog. Training sessions are often more effective when done in short bursts, no longer than 5 minutes, multiple times a day.
- Start by introducing the clicker and letting your dog associate the click sound with being rewarded. To do this, simply click it and give your dog a treat straight away.
- Repeat this a few times so your dog can get familiar with it. Remember: your dog should get a treat every time they hear the click.
- Practise calling their name. Each time they look at you, give them a ‘click’ and a treat.
- Start teaching other cue words (‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘roll over’ etc…) but when your dog does the required action, give them a ‘click’ and a treat.
- You’ll eventually find that your dog can follow cue words without the clicker. When they get better at this, you can leave out the clicker and stick with verbal praise (‘Good boy!’ ‘Good girl!’) instead, but you can still use the clicker from time to time, especially when teaching new commands.
Always use positive reinforcement when training your dog – clicker training is a great example of positive reinforcement. Never raise your voice or punish your dog when training.
You can still use verbal praise, but it should be the clicker that your dog is responding to initially. Your timing must be accurate and if you press the clicker by mistake, make sure to reward your dog anyway. In their eyes, click = treat.
When using treats to train your dog, take a note of how many you’re using and alter their meals accordingly. This will help to keep them at a healthy weight.
Need more info?
For more help and advice on how to clicker train your dog, training your puppy in general or any other aspect of their health and wellbeing, have a chat with your local vet.