Clicker Training For Dogs

Why’s Everyone Talking about Clicker Training for Dogs?

Humans are learning new tricks all the time. One new trick, is how to train dogs in ways that work faster  thanks to tapping-in to a dog’s mind. The latest big breakthrough in this trend is the clicker.

We now know that dogs and puppies, just like humans, can get distracted while learning. That distraction can cut-in to your dog training sessions every few seconds, and that gets in the way of the training process. With the clicker dog training method, you can do dog training with instant feedback, which helps your dog immensely.

So, training your puppy with a clicker is the opposite of “traditional” training methods. It removes a lot of frustration, which means you’re training a puppy who not only wants to learn, but a puppy who is being taught on his level – and that means better results.Training with a clicker turns the training process into a science – like I said, the complete opposite of old-school methods in every respect.


Learning the Basics of Clicker Dog Training

Humans have been using clickers to train animals since the 1960s. In the past couple decades, it’s become very common to use clicker training with household pets, especially dogs. The success, and the completely different mood, of using a clicker has led to widespread word-of-mouth, which is why you may be asking yourself…

What’s a Clicker?

a dog training clicker

A clicker works similar to a toy gun – the kind that just goes “click.” They’re usually small and made of plastic, except for a metal strip. When used, a sharp clicking sound gets your puppy’s attention. It’s a neutral sound, so it won’t scare the puppy or hurt sensitive canine ears.  In fact, the sound is believed to directly stimulate the pleasure center of the dog’s brain.

The purpose of a clicker is simple – it gives you a way of getting their attention at a precise time, in a positive and consistent way. It’s faster than saying “good boy!” and fishing treats out of a bag.  It serves as an instant reward for doing the right thing.

What is the Clicker Dog Training Method?

Does the clicker train your puppy for you? No.

The clicker is a tool that you use in your dog training. On one level, it trains your puppy the same way as any other feedback, by sending a certain message to your dog at a specific time. That “click” sound, when it’s timed correctly, tells your dog that they got something right.

Any kind of training, especially with dogs and puppies, requires feedback. The clicker enables you to respond to positive progress before your dog’s mind wanders and he forgets what you’re giving the feedback about.

Karen Pryor, the researcher who brought the clicker to the dog world, explained that social animals, such as puppies, rely entirely on social feedback in order to learn what’s accepted and what’s not.  Dogs in particular, learn through rewards – they repeat the behaviors that “work out” for them.  With dog training, this means they learn to do the things that earn them love, praise, and treats.

By using a clicker for instant feedback, the puppy stays focused and understands exactly what you’re giving feedback about.  This they’ll learn faster. By reinforcing positive results with instant feedback, instead of showing disappointment over the failures, some research shows training times can drop by 66% for a given lesson.

What remains, is the core part of the dog’s learning process – that is, the immediate consequences of their actions. A positive reaction – the click – comes instantly during the correct behavior, which is the best way to teach.

Some Other Advantages of Clicker Dog Training

  1. It’s not a cookie – meaning your dog won’t become physically unhealthy in the process of becoming socially healthy.
  2. It’s instantaneous – meaning your dog is more likely to associate your clicker feedback, with the good behavior.
  3. It’s not tactile – meaning that it’s good for skittish dogs, dogs rescued from abuse, and dogs being corrected for invading your personal space.
  4. It’s cooperative – meaning your dog will learn, “clicker = training time,” and they will choose to cooperate and be ready to learn.
  5. It’s fun for them – dogs like the sound, and other rewards that come after it, and want to earn it.
  6. It’s mental activity – it gets them using their brains, triggers their problem-solving and social-learning behaviors, building a smarter dog.
  7. It’s positive – you’re teaching your puppy to earn positive feedback instead of avoiding trouble.
  8. It’s effective no matter the age or size of the animal, because it works on a neutral mental cue, instead of a competitive physical cue.

clicker dog training
The puppy who gets punished: “I’m a bad dog, I have to worry about what I do.”

what is clicker dog training?
The puppy who’s trained with a clicker: “I’m awesome, I can learn anything.”

More about How Clicker Dog Training Works

One thing that every method of training has in common, is that you are taking two unrelated things, and creating a relationship in your student-puppy’s mind. Since the sound is interesting and pleasant to a dog, it’s a convenient method of positive reinforcement.

Clicking the clicker gets your puppy’s attention, prompts them to think about what they did to cause the click, and sets them up for a follow-up reward of your choosing. Once they’re used to the clicker, the process works like this:

  1. Puppy does something right (‘X’).
  2. Puppy hears clicker and looks at you.
  3. Puppy is thinking: “So, I did ‘X,’ and now master wants to tell me something. What’s up?”
  4. Puppy is praised or rewarded.
  5. Puppy is thinking: “Ok, doing ‘X’ must be a good thing. Cool, thanks, master!”

If you’re not sure dogs think this way, take this example: Let’s say that you and your dog are hanging out or playing, and you say, “Is it cookie time? Time for a treat?” Then you walk toward the treats, and give one. Most dog owners already know from experience that this is true: If you repeat this habit, then before long, “Is it cookie time?” will send your dog walking ahead of you, straight for wherever you stash those treats.

That’s how dogs learn. Consistent stimulus, consistent response. By focusing on using that puppy training method for positive rewards instead of negative punishment, you can get amazing results.

The clicker is a teaching tool that signals to your dog, “there’s something to learn here, and you’re going to like it!” Once they’ve learned the lesson, you don’t need to keep clicking every time they respond correctly.

The clicker itself shouldn’t be an ongoing reward for things they’ve already learned. Dogs are born knowing: being a good member of the pack, is its own reward. You can reserve the clicker for new behaviors and lessons, which keeps it extremely effective. They’ll know that when the clicker comes out, puppy school is in session.

Advanced Clicker Dog Training

I’ve given you the basic principles, explained a little of the history and the science, and proven these principles work by using common-sense examples that most dog owners can relate to immediately.

This is certainly enough information for you to start with. You could buy a clicker and reread this article a few times, and get some positive results. However, with a powerful tool such as the clicker dog training method, you can do a lot more.

Lets have a look at a clicker trainers step by step approach to shaping a new behavior: Always remember that dogs know how to do these tasks already you just need to clearly communicate to them what you want them to do – and make it worth their while to do so.

If you want to become a pro at clicker dog training, I strongly recommend you watch videos of professional trainers using the clicker to train a puppy or dog, or, use a detailed training manual. Because the clicker is so effective, it makes advanced training much easier and more effective, opening up new possibilities. Good clicker dog training can literally make your dog smarter.

Here’s a basic breakdown of a training method, for teaching your dog a trick with a clicker:

  1. Wait for your dog to do something you want to encourage – or, lure them into doing it.
  2. Click! And then follow the click with any kind of positive reinforcement.
  3. Take advantage of your puppy’s desire for learning, by making a game of the lesson. Create obstacles, distractions, etc: add a little bit of difficulty, so they must actively try.
  4. Associate a specific word or phrase with the behavior. Say that word every time the activity begins, or at the beginning of each repetition.
  5. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
  6. Once they’ve learned this lesson and the lessons become too easy for them, you can phase out the clicker and other rewards, signaling to your puppy that this is “normal behavior” you expect.

Why Am I So “Gung-Ho” About Clicker Dog Training?

You can see I have a lot to say about my clickers! When I was taught dog training, the clicker in my teacher’s hand made me think of a remote control. Even the name made me think it: “This must be a remote control like the one for my TV. That must be the ‘Stop’ button!”

But an hour later, my trainer showed me it’s just the opposite. In that short hour, a young dog was taught “find the ball.” Besides learning a problem-solving skill, that puppy also became immediately friendly and showed signs of curiosity, loyalty, and trust. You could see his little mind working, and it seemed he was thinking: “Ok, this guy’s teaching me stuff. Cool. I like this.”

Over the following hours, I noticed that the results were extremely quick. I’ve always known dogs were smart, but this was incredible. Clicker-trained puppies were learning new tricks quickly, and they weren’t running out of energy. They weren’t getting bored with the training, and nobody was getting frustrated, neither human nor canine. From my first-hand experience, I agree with the research – training a dog via a clicker is much faster, for many different reasons.

Once you put that clicker in your hand, and embrace the simple habit of pressing that button the instant your dog does a new thing you’d like to encourage, the whole clicker dog training method will… well, “click.” At that point, you’re already doing it right.

To get even better with the clicker dog training method, just pick up any of the excellent DVDs or books recommended below. I’ve sampled all these materials, so I know they line-up with the effective methods I was taught when I learned to become a dog trainer.

For more details about the history and science behind the clicker, how it came to be used for training puppies, and how it’s been confirmed by psychologists to be effective and humane, read about Clicker dog training on Wikipedia.

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