How to Train Your Dog with a Clicker
If you own a dog or are working with one, then it's almost impossible not to have heard of the term "clicker." Clicker training is one of the more common tools used to communicate with dogs better during training sessions. But what exactly is a clicker for dogs? Does clicker training for dogs work, or is it just another fad to sell unnecessary pet tools? We break it all down for you below.
What is a Clicker?
A clicker, sometimes also called a marker, is a dog training tool. The goal here is to use the clicker for positive reinforcement training. Ideally, using a clicker consistently and repeatedly during training will allow the dog to associate it with a reward or treat. Thus, it becomes a conditioned reinforcer.
What is a "Click"?
Simply put, a click is a way to mark a command or specific behavior.
Your dog already associates some sounds with action, and you may not even notice it. Think of the times when you give your dog food. It could be the rattling of the bag that holds kibble or opening a lid where food is stored. They know what comes after that sound and quickly makes their way towards you. The clicker works similarly. They will figure out fast that after a click, something tasty comes after. Just remember that the sound of the clicker is worthless to them if it's not paired with a reward.
What is Clicker Training for Dogs?
As previously mentioned, clicker training is positive reinforcement training using a clicker.
The science of animal learning states that any behavior that's rewarded will likely be repeated in the future. Clicker training teaches the dog that certain completed actions are rewarded with food. By associating verbal commands followed by a clicking sound, the dog knows exactly what behavior is rewarded.
The Psychology Behind Clicker Training
There are many different ways to train a dog. In the past, it was believed that negative reinforcement was the best way to go. In recent years, however, this perception has changed.
Today, positive reinforcement has been proven to be a more effective way to bring out good behaviors. A reward-based method of training usually results in dogs with higher levels of obedience. These dogs learn new skills better. They also exhibit fewer problematic behaviors, being less likely to be aggressive and show fear.
In clicker training, a dog is taught that a reward is coming when he hears the click.
Clicker training helps–
- To train the behavior rather than the response
- To build rapport between the owner and the pet
- To build trust
How Does Clicker Training Work?
The clicker training process is relatively simple:
- Produce the desired behavior.
- Mark the behavior with a click.
- Reward the behavior.
The objective is for the dog to repeat the behavior, so it becomes stronger.
The desired behavior could be something as simple as learning to sit at the command "Sit". Using the clicker as soon as the dog's bottom hits the ground teaches them to associate the command with the action. Giving them a treat while still sitting lets them know that it's that particular position that is correct and being rewarded.
A dog that stands up almost immediately after touching the floor will not be given treats. They will then learn to differentiate which action gets the treats. The clicker marks the exact action and bridges the gap until the reward is given.
Clicker Training vs Verbal Praise
If a click is nothing special, it's only meant to mark an action, could verbal praise work the same way?
The short answer is yes.
So why spend time working with a clicker?
- To avoid confusion
Dogs do not understand human language, but they learn sounds. After some training, they know what they must do after that sound. When they are young, they need to start with something simple. This must be kept constant before moving forward to new sounds.
- To improve communication
A click is a neutral sound and does not carry any emotional tone. Your dog won’t need to wonder if performing the action will make you happy, angry, sad or something else. The click will simply and clearly signal that they did something worthy of a reward.
- To foster learning
Dogs, in general, love to learn. They like working hard to please their owner. At the same time, training provides them with mental stimulation that keeps them happy. Using the "mark and reward" system (or more aptly, “click and treat”) lets them learn new behaviors in a fun way.
- To improve the dog’s confidence
Dogs respond to training better when it’s fun and motivating. By using a clicker, the focus shifts to rewarding good behavior instead of punishing for mistakes. Because they get treats for correct actions, they become more confident and learn faster.
Clicker Training the Effective Way
Clicker training is a great method to make learning fun both for the dog and the owner. But just like any other tool, the correct way is the key to success.
How do you start using a clicker for training?
1. Get familiar with your clicker.
Once you have familiarised yourself with how to use the clicker, you can start practicing with your pet. Teach your dog what the sound means by making the click and giving them a treat. This starts the process of associating the click with a delicious reward.
Remember- the key is timing. Actions need to be marked correctly to be able to teach effectively.
3. Start practicing basic commands.
Once your dog has learned that a click equals a treat, you can start practicing with basic commands.
Please bear in mind however, that your clicker is not a remote control. It is not meant to trigger the activity. Rather, it is used to mark the desirable action. So click mindfully.
A few more tips that will help with the training:
- Make sure the clicker is tethered to you properly.
- Having a treat bag frees up your hands while still keeping the treats accessible.
- Keep training periods short and fun. Just like people, dogs learn better in short bursts rather than long sessions.
Clicker training can be used to shape or capture good behaviors. It can also be used together with the lure and reward training system. In this type of training, food is usually used to guide (or “lure”) the dog into the desired position or behavior. A click can signal that they were able to do what was required and thus bridge the gap between action and reward.
A clicker is a teaching tool. It can help you communicate with and train your dog better. It lets them know that something good was done, and they will be rewarded for it. The more clicks and rewards for the behavior, the more often they will do it. Your dog will eventually learn the new behavior, and your clicker should have done its job.