How to Train Your Dog with a Clicker : 5 Easy Steps

Most dogs will do anything within their power to earn your praise as long as they understand what's expected. The trick is to communicate your wishes to your canine in a way that they can easily and quickly comprehend.

That's where clicker training comes in. Combine this affordable and effective tool with patience and positive reinforcement to make training fun and rewarding for both you and your pup.

Here's what you need to know about training your dog using a clicker:

Clickers are simple devices. Most include a thin piece of metal inside a plastic housing. The trainer pushes a button that bends the taut metal to create a distinct, attention-grabbing click.

Marine mammal trainers first developed this training technique, but they used a whistle instead of a clicker. They blew the whistle at the precise moment a dolphin or whale completed a desired action. When the animal returned to the trainer, the whistle was followed up by a treat and praise so that a connection was made in the animal's mind. The trainers found that this combined reward system was more effective than food-based reinforcement alone.

Why is it more effective?

Let's say the trainer is working with a dolphin that is already jumping on command and returning quickly to the trainer for his treat, but the trainer wants the dolphin to make a bigger splash with his jump. By blowing the whistle only at the exact time the animal makes a huge splash then giving the dolphin a treat when he returns, the trainer can tell the dolphin specifically what he wants the animal to do. 

Of course, the dolphin must also learn that no whistle means no treat.

The same thing happens with clicker dog training. It may take several tries for your canine to understand the significance of the clicker, but once he gets it, training can happen at a faster pace.

How to Train Your Dog with a Clicker

Step 1: Teach Your Dog that a Click Means a Treat

Your dog won't know what the clicker means unless you train your canine. Before you show him the clicker, get 10 small treats. You can buy training treats in most pet stores, you can break larger treats into smaller pieces, or you can use tiny pieces of cheese or anything else your dog loves.

Click the clicker once. Immediately give your dog one treat. Repeat until the treats are gone. Your dog should now associate the click with a treat. However, if you wait months before trying to use the clicker as a training aid, you might need to repeat this process.

Step 2: Try the Clicker with a Command Your Dog Already Knows

Most dogs learn what "sit" means when they're fairly young, so start with this command. Tell your dog to sit. The moment his behind touches the ground, click once to mark the desired behavior. Immediately give your dog a treat and some praise.

Repeat this at random intervals for a day or two to let the significance of the click sink in. If your dog knows other commands, like "stay" or "roll over", you can start to use the clicker with those commands, too.

Step 3: Teach Your Dog New Commands

The next step is to teach your dog a new command. For this example, let's assume your dog knows "sit" but not "lie down."

Start by having her sit. When she sits, give her a treat. Immediately put a second treat in front of her nose to get her attention. Bring it down towards the ground. As her head drops, click once and give her the treat. Repeat until she does it consistently.

Next, get her to lie down completely. Repeat the steps above, but take the second treat from her nose all the way to the ground between her front legs. The second her front legs are extended, reward her with a click, a treat and praise. Continue practicing. Eventually, add in the voice command.

Step 4: Use the Clicker to Improve Existing Behavior

Now that your dog can lie down on command, you can improve this behavior so that he stays put for a longer period of time.

Give the "lie down" command. Reward him with a click, a treat and praise. Next, slowly extend the time he remains still by waiting a second or two longer to click each time until you're satisfied with his progress.

Use the same technique to teach him the "up" command by rewarding him for staying down until you give him permission to move.

Step 5: Stop Using the Clicker for Learned Behavior

Of course, you won't want to carry a clicker and a pocket of treats around for the rest of your dog's life. When your dog responds to the voice command about 95 percent of the time, slowly eliminate the clicker and treats from the activity. Praise, however, should always be a regular part of dog training.

Practical Tips for Successful Clicker Training

Clicker training requires patience and consistency on your part. Don't get discouraged if both you and your dog need practice to get it right. In the meantime, 

here are some helpful tips that will make it easier to learn how to train your dog with a clicker:

Don't abuse the clicker

  • Don't abuse the clicker. Don't be tempted to use it to simply get his attention when you're not in a training session.

Train in small steps

  • Train in small steps. Break each training activity down into the smallest steps possible. Start with a click on the first step. As your dog masters each stage of the new command, move the click to the next step.

Always pair the click with a treat

  • Always pair the click with a treat. After your dog starts responding well to clicker training, he may appear happy to just hear the click. Don't let this make you so confident that you eliminate the treat. Clicker training won't work nearly as well without it.

Only click one time for each activity

  • Only click one time for each activity. You can give a treat at each step of an activity, but only click one time at the exact point your dog completes the step you're trying to master.

Keep training sessions short and fun

  • Keep training sessions short and fun. Five minutes at a time is enough to start. Otherwise, both you and your dog may become frustrated and discouraged.

Don't punish mistakes or bad behavior

Be generous with the positive reinforcement

Be generous with the positive reinforcement. The smallest progress toward a goal is reward-able. That includes accidental or coaxed achievements. The more excited your dog gets about the clicker, the more likely he will be to show progress.

Tori Reese: Expert in Canine Training

This guide to training your canine using a clicker was written based on Tori Reese's personal experience using this method. She's worked with successful trainers for over a decade to teach obedience to her own dogs using a wide variety of techniques.

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Mike Stiven
 

I'm a pet owner, blogger, and writer from the Massachusetts. I've worked at the Alpha Dog Training Center, a dog boarding and training facility, and also shared the knowledge garnered over the years with a good number of pet sites. As a firm believer that great care has to be given to pets, beside sharing my whole experience in this blog I also work as volunteer at pet stores during the weekend.

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