What is dog clicker training? While this might be a newer concept in the realm of dog training, this is a technique that has been used quite successfully with wild and marine animals for some time. Simply put, it is a key component of positive reinforcement. It is a methodology that involves no force whatsoever, and one you’ve seen put into action probably without even knowing it.
When you watch a marine animal show, a dolphin may perform a jump or flip on command and signal. There is always a whistle and bucket of fish involved. The whistle is used to indicate to the dolphin when he has a behavior correct, and the fish is the reward. The reward is paired with the sound, so he knows what to expect from the whistle.
A clicker works for us with our dogs the same way the whistle does for the dolphins. It is a sound that is easily heard and quickly identified. It is used to mark a behavior for the dog or to tell them when they have correctly performed a behavior. Timing is extremely important because the click must come at the time the behavior happens.
Here’s how the dog clicker training is meant to work:
- A clicker is often ‘loaded’ prior to its first use. This means taking a lot of little treats and rapidly clicking and treating several times to get the dog used to the sound and the realization that the sound means reward.
- Now it’s time to teach a behavior. Clickers can be used to shape and form any number of behaviors from quite simple to rather complex. We’ll look at a simple behavior to illustrate the point.
- Sit: with a clicker in one hand and a treat in the other, you can lure the treat back over your dog’s head. As he eases into sit, be prepared to click but not until he actually sits. As soon as his butt hits the floor, click, then reward. The click, not the reward, tells him the moment he is correct.
- A dog that understands what the click is will work to get a click. There is no reward until there is a click, and clicks cannot be random. Clickers can only be used when teaching a task.
- Clickers are not used forever, which is sometimes a concern with new trainers. Instead, clicker training is used to shape the initial behavior and set it in place. Once a dog understands a behavior, you can move away from using the clicker for that behavior. In its place you can use praise such as ‘good sit’ along with the treat. Clickers will be used just for learning the new behavior, complicating a behavior, or changing the behavior’s application.
Dog Clicker training is used in positive reinforcement training to give the dog the ability to use his brain in the training process. It makes a dog think! How can I get that reward? What do they want me to do? Not only are clickers used in lower level training, but they have been successfully applied in various types of upper level performance sport training. It is also the number one training method of service dogs, which have to be able to use their brains while working. Clicker training allows you to go from teaching a service dog to turn on a light switch that is held in your hand to jumping on the wall to turn on an actual switch. It allows you to shape the progression of behaviors in a positive format while encouraging the dog to think.
Whether you are working your dog on basic obedience or have further aspirations in training, clicker training is a wonderful style of training that creates a real partnership between handler and dog. In fact, clicker training can also be used to work with a variety of behavioral issues too. The uses for it are almost limitless!