What’s clicker training?
Clicker training has been used for years to train marine mammals, and it’s very effective with dogs, too. All you need is a clicker–a small plastic box with a metal tab that clicks when you press it–and treats.
Clicker training lets the dog know he’s doing what you want precisely when he does it by marking the behavior with a click sound. Your dog will be motivated to work for the clicks because you follow them with tasty treats.
Why click instead of shouting, “Eureka!” or “You’ve got it!” or using treats alone? Because a click is faster and more precise. It’s also more consistent: the click sounds the same each time, whereas verbal tones vary.
Clickers work well when combined with other types of training. With luring, you lead the dog into position by having him follow something, usually a tasty treat. With capturing, you click and reward each time your dog does the behavior you want on his own. With shaping, you click and reward as your dog gets closer and closer to the behavior. When teaching “down,” for example, you might click and give a treat first for a slight dip of the head, then for a lowered head, then for one paw out, and so on until the dog lies down.
Don’t worry that you’ll have to carry a clicker around forever. Once the dog learns the command, you can put it away.
Here are a few tips:
- Click right as your dog is doing what you want. It takes a while to perfect your timing, which is fine–but even if a click is a little late or early, always follow it with a treat.
- Don’t use the verbal command until the dog is performing the behavior well. Once he’s got it, start giving the command right before the dog starts the behavior.
- If your dog’s afraid of the clicking sound, muffle it by keeing the clicker in your pocket or use a verbal “Yes!” instead.
- If your dog performs especially well, click only once, but “jackpot” by giving a few treats in a row, along with enthusiastic praise.
- Don’t point the clicker at your dog; it’s not a remote control.
- To learn more about clicker training, work with a clicker-savvy trainer, or check out Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor, Clicking with Your Dog by Peggy Tillman, or any other excellent clicker training books available at Dogwise.com.