“Clicker training” is a way of training animals that has become more popular in the last ten years or so because of its effectiveness and positive methods. The magic of clicker training is that it teaches your dog to think for himself and problem-solve. If one behavior is not getting the click and treat, a properly conditioned dog will seek out other behaviors until one gets the desired reward. Unlike using verbal praise to tell your pet when he has behaved correctly, the clicker allows for greater precision in training. You can mark the exact instant your dog does the correct action. The clicker is especially great for trick training because its fun and intuitive nature allows your dog to problem-solve (and practically train himself) to perform different tricks through trial and error.
The Science Behind It
The scientific term for clicker training is “operant conditioning,” which describes the philosophy that an animal will most often repeat a behavior that has a positive result, and tend not to repeat one that has a negative outcome. Dog trainers use the clicker tool to mark the exact moment when the dog performs the desired behavior. Following the “click,” the dog gets a food reward. When the dog performs an undesirable action, he does not get the click or food reward. There are no negative consequences used in clicker training; when the dog makes the wrong choice, he simply doesn’t get rewarded for it.
Choosing the Right Clicker
The clicker tool itself is rather ordinary looking; it is a small plastic box with a metal strip that makes a sharp—but not loud—clicking sound when the strip is pressed. The cool thing about the “click” sound is that it does not sound like talking or any noise normally found in the dog’s environment.
Several different styles of clicker are currently on the market to suit different trainers’ personal preferences as well as different temperaments of dogs. Some, like the Clicker+, make other noises besides the traditional “click.” Others, like my personal favorite the i-Click, make a softer noise than traditional clickers. Both of these “special” clickers are made by Karen Pryor Clicker Products. It is important to do your homework and consider your dog’s level of sound sensitivity when choosing the right clicker for you.
Charging the Clicker
The first step towards teaching your dog to respond to the clicker is to show him what the clicker is, and what the “click” means. This is called “charging the clicker.” To begin this step, take your clicker and a bunch of small, soft, bite-sized treats and take your dog to a quiet area away from distractions. Sitting next to your dog on the floor or in a chair, press the clicker and give your dog a treat. Repeat this many times until your dog looks expectantly at the food (or at your hand—you just want to see some sort of recognition in your dog that the click means that a treat is coming). Make sure that every time you click, your dog gets a reward. It is important to note that at this point you are not asking your dog to do anything, just recognize the clicker.
Gateway To Success
Once you have properly conditioned your dog to the clicker, he will be ready to learn real commands and behaviors. This incredibly versatile tool can be used to teach your dog anything from a reliable “come” when called to advanced trick or obedience training. The possibilities really are endless. Hopefully this article has inspired you to give clicker training a try. I know that your dog will thank you for it if you do. Good luck!