Clicker training for dogs involves using a handheld noisemaker, which is called clicker to mark wanted behaviors. It is a “conditioned reinforcer” because it is paired repeatedly with what the dog wants to work for, usually food but not always, which you then use to communicate with your dogs. The treat is a way of saying,“I like that, do it more often!”
What You Need to Start Dog Clicker Training
Clickers – we recommend:
Pouches for treats – we recommend:
Tasty treats – we recommend:
Dog Clicker Training Tips
Step 1 – Charging the clicker
The first step is to “charge up” your clicker. Get a small, tasty treat and press the clicker button. You can use something your dog really likes at first like small pieces of hot dogs, dog cookies, and cheese. It can quickly make your dog ready for the next activity.
Continue the “charge up” until your dog reacts to the clicker either by pricking her ears, startling, or suddenly looking for the treat. If your dog reacts, then you are ready for the next step. Take note that timing is important, so try and keep a random timing of one to five seconds between one click and treat time and the next.
Remember to click first and then treat within 5 seconds.
Step 2 – Three ways to train: capturing, luring, or shaping behaviors Capturing a Behavior
Allow the dog to do something that impresses you, it can be sitting or lifting a paw. When you notice the behavior, click the clicker and give the treat to the dog. Click and treat each time your dog exhibits the behavior again.
Timing is also important here, consider the clicker as a camera that captures the moment the dog is doing something right.
Luring a Behavior
Place a treat close to your dog’s nose. She will most probably try to lick it, but avoid letting her eat and use it as a “nose magnet” because she will probably follow the treat just about anywhere. Using the “nose magnet,” you can “guide” or “lure” her to whatever position you want to teach her, for example sitting.
Immediately she takes the position you want her to learn, click the clicker and give the treat to her.
Shaping a Behavior
This is like an advanced form of “capturing”. To begin, you click and treat the simplest form of the behavior you want to achieve, and then focus on taking small steps closer to your ultimate goal.
For example, clicking and treating every time your dog turns left until she eventually turns in a complete circle, and subsequently two circles, and you will only click and treat for that. By doing this, you will eventually “shape” a spin.
Step 3 – Add a Cue Word
You use this tip, adding a cue, when your dog is doing a trick reliably. That is to the extent you can predict what she is about to do and when she is about to do it.
For example, if you feel your dog is about to lift her paw, say “Wave”. If she is about to sit, say “Sit” and tie this cue with this behavior several times followed by a reward. But avoid repeating the same cue almost immediately like “sit, sit, sit” so that you don’t end up confusing your dog.
Step 4 – Test the Cue
You can test the cue by saying the word. If your dog responds by doing what you say, click and give a treat – some extra good treats would help.
If your dog does something you like, identify it with a click and give a reward with better or more treats.
If she doesn’t respond, maybe you were a little too quick. So go back to Step 2 and work on it for a while.
Step 5 – Ignore Un-cued Behaviors
When you say the cue and she is reliably doing it, you don’t have to click and treat if she does it at other times; ignore the spontaneous behaviors. You can continue the clicking and treating when she responds to your cue.
Step 6 – Be a Variable Reward Giver
You can try to make the dog do two or three repetitions of the trick before clicking and treating. If you want to let the dog know that she is doing the right thing, you can say, “Good dog”.
This is action is called “putting the behavior on a variable reinforcement schedule”. The dog will keep trying because she doesn’t know when she will get the big reward.
Step 7 – Generalize It
It is time to teach your dog that this cue will work anywhere. To do this, go to different locations within your home and give it a try. You can also try it outside, with the leash on and without it, in the park, car and at the vets.
With this step, your dog should be able to generalize the behavior and learn the importance of the cue word, and not the location or position she finds herself.
You can learn everything about clicker training from this book: Agility Right from the Start: The ultimate training guide to America’s fastest-growing dog sport (Karen Pryor Clicker Book).
All dogs can learn from clicker training and we hope this guide would help you achieve your aim.