WHAT IS CLICKER TRAINING?
Clicker training uses a little noise maker to give your dog instant, specific feedback about what behavior you want them to do more often. Similar methods are used in the training of marine animals where trainers commonly use a whistle and reward the animal with fish. This tool effectively and efficiently reinforces desirable behavior.
HOW DO CLICKERS WORK?
Clicker training utilizes Classical Conditioning to create a ‘conditioned reinforcer’ by pairing the sound of the clicker with the arrival of food. The ‘Click’ then marks behavior your dog does that you wish to reward. The click activates the same pleasure centers in your dog’s brain as when he eats a bite of food.
WHY USE A CLICKER?
The ‘click’ is significantly more accurate than using your voice. It buys you time between marking behavior and delivering the reward. You can use a clicker AND carry on a conversation with someone which is challenging to do with a verbal marker. Learning to use the clicker will improve your timing and delivery and will help you break larger training goals down into daily accomplishments.
CLICKER TRAINING RULES
- Click only once and aim to click, initially every 3-6 seconds.
- If you click you must give the treat, even if you made a mistake.
- Whatever behavior the dog is doing when you click will be reinforced.
GETTING STARTED WITH CLICKER TRAINING
STEP 1: REWARD DELIVERY
Start with reward delivery!
Grab a 10 high value treats cut into small pea sized pieces. Stand or sit with a neutral posture with your hands at waist or resting on the table. Take 1 treat from your pile and and deliver to a food bowl on the floor, then return to neutral. Deliver all 10 treats successively, returning to neutral each time.
STEP 2: ADD THE SECONDARY REINFORCER
Add the ‘Click’ before the treat!
Take your clicker in hand and click one time before reaching for the treat and delivering it. Repeat the previous exercise this time clicking your clicker BEFORE reaching for your treat. After delivering the treat return to neutral. You can practice this by yourself or with a friend or family member but wait until the next step to add the dog.
STEP 3: CHARGE THE MARKER
Teach your dog that ‘Click’ means the ‘Treat’ is on the way!
Now retrieve your dog. Repeat Step 1 with your dog first so that they are already anticipating receiving a treat. Remember to return to neutral in between each repetition. You are not asking the dog to perform any specific behavior, you are simply delivering treats in a steady and consistent manner. Once all 10 treats have been delivered show your dog you have empty hands and tell them they are ‘All Done.’ You may also remove the food bowl if you are using one to catch the treats.
Now return to Step 2 and add the click before taking a treat and delivering it to the floor or food bowl. Return to neutral between each repetition. Deliver all 10 treats, clicking and treating consistently every 2-3 seconds and returning to neutral between each click and treat delivery. A dog that is becoming savvy to the clicker will begin to look for the food upon hearing the click.
You may Charge the Marker repeatedly until your dog ‘Gets it.’ Each 10 clicks and reward deliveries is a ‘Set.’ Recording yourself performing this exercise will provide instant feedback about your posture, reward delivery, and timing. Conduct a set of 10 repetitions then take a short break to reload your training treats and evaluate your and your dog’s progress. You may remove your food bowl, if using one, between each set, replacing it upon commencing the next set of repetitions.
CLICKER TRAINING THE MAT TARGET
TOOLS: 2′ x 3′ floor mat, clicker, 30-50 high value treats, timer
Instructions: Assemble the necessary training implements and separate 10 treats to have ready to deliver. With your clicker in hand and your treats nearby or in your treat pouch wait until your dog acknowledges you, start your timer, then place the mat on the ground. Begin clicking the first sniff or acknowledgment your dog offers. Click whenever your dog is turning toward the mat, and withhold he click if he turns away.
Strive to deliver all 10 treats within 1 minute (that’s a treat every 6 seconds)! If you missed the mark, lower your standards and include more click worthy behaviors. Count the seconds in your head and find something to click on average of every 6 seconds.
STEP 1 WITH YOUR DOG: REWARD DELIVERY
The next step is to add the clicker. If a dog is already clicker savvy you can skip step one and go straight for the click. However, if the dog is getting introduced to both the clicker AND the mat start with step one so that your dog understands right away that the mat is important.
Ask yourself at the end of each set of repetitions whether the previous exercise was too hard, too easy, or just right and adjust accordingly for the next. By devoting a little time to your dog each day and using the resources you already provide as payment for their effort you will soon have the obedient dog you’ve always dreamed of!
Are you sold on clicker training and ready to dive in head first? Purchase a copy of Clicker Training for Dog by Karen Pryor. This book is a must have for any one looking level up by adding clickers to their trainer tool kit! Give it a read and let us know what behavior you begin teaching first!
Have questions about using Clicker Training to teach your dog to target the mat or other behaviors? Join us for our Weekly Q&A and Nail Trim sessions hosted on Zoom and streamed live through Facebook. We stream live most Saturdays at 11 am! On a tight budget? Check out our FREE courses available online.
Have you attempted the exercises above on your own? Did you have to make any adjustments for unforeseen challenges along the way? Share your journey below!