Whether you are a first-time dog guardian or you’ve had dogs before, you must have heard of clicker training at some point. Clicker training is a training method that makes the use of rewards and sounds to train the dog. In recent years, clicker training has become an imperative part of the dog training process. If you send your puppy to puppy school or if you have visited a dog training session, you must have noticed the trainers using clickers to train the dogs. What is clicker training exactly? Can clicker training be effective in training your dog as well? Let’s find out.
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What is clicker training?
Clicker training is an amazing scientific-based approach to training your dog. Clicker training can also be used for the purpose of communication. Recent studies have shown that clicker training works better than standard training that is command-based. Another huge advantage of clicker training is that it can be used to train any animal, not just dogs and of any age. Clicker training makes the training process very simple. Even if you have a senior dog, you can give clicker training a try. Since it is very simple to follow and is based on positive reinforcement, your dog will pick it up quickly and start responding.
What is a clicker?
Guardians and dog trainers use clickers for clicker training. Clickers are small and simple plastic devices. The clicker contains a metal strip present inside. When you press the clicker, the metal strip makes a clicking sound. If you do not have a clicker, you can also download a clicker app on your phone and use your phone as a clicker. Clickers are most often pretty inexpensive and can be easily purchased from online stores, physical shops, or supermarkets.
What does the click mean?
The click is used to mark the moment. The click is a very basic sound. There’s nothing fancy about it. The magic is not in the sound that the clicker makes. The magic is in the treat that follows. When you are training your dog for any command, the moment you hit the clicker, your dog knows he will get a treat. If you do not use a clicker, you might be using other methods to tell your dog that he is doing right, for example: yes, good boy, blow a whistle, snap fingers, click your tongue etc.
All of these act as markers. You cannot conduct dog training without a marker. If there is no marker, your dog will never know if the behavior he displayed was right or wrong. If you have a hearing-impaired dog, you can dab his shoulder in a gentle manner to indicate that he is doing right.
The click will be rendered meaningless if it is not accompanied by a treat. This is why having the treats in your hand is so important. The click indicates that the behavior is acceptable and now a reward will follow. In other words, the click is a nonverbal mode of communication. The click can either be followed by treats or you can give other incentives to your dog like offering a toy, taking him out for walks, allowing him play time, etc.
How does clicker training work?
Clicker training makes the process of dog training very simple. The clicker provides an audible and consistent response to the positive behavior of the dog. When guardians or dog trainers train the dog using a clicker, they will click the clicker once the dog has responded in a positive manner. The click will be followed by a reward. In most cases, the reward is an enticing treat. Over time, the dog learns to associate the click with a reward. This responsiveness pattern is used for training the dog.
Benefits of clicker training over standard training methods
Clicker training is based on the method of animal learning. Dogs tend to display those behaviors repeatedly that get them rewards. In a standard dog training method, you give a command to the dog, the dog follows the command and gets a reward. However, there is no known sign or signal that tells the dog that he has done the right thing. If the dog engages in a negative behavior there is no sign or signal to tell the dog that the behavior is wrong either.
When guardians use a clicker to train their dog, the clicker acts as a signal for good behavior. When the dog does something you want, you press the clicker. This indicates to the dog that the behavior he engaged in is acceptable and he should do it more often. Furthermore, since the click of the clicker is followed by a treat, the clicker acts as a positive reinforcement method for your dog. This makes dog training much easier for both the guardian and the dog.
Punishing your dog does not work. There are people who prefer to use shock collars, prong collars, hit the dog, etc as a means to try and get the dog to be obedient. However, dogs are not the same as humans. Your dog will feel frightened but he will not understand why he was being punished. He may continue to engage in the behavior because he does not know that he is being punished for the said behavior. Therefore, always refrain from punishing your dog for any misbehavior.
Instead, you can redirect your dog’s attention from the unwanted behavior by using the clicker and giving a treat. When your dog stops engaging in the unwanted activity and responds to your command by coming to you, you press the clicker and offer a treat. This way, the dog understands that coming to you is a better option than engaging in the unwanted behavior because coming to you gets him treats. This is how you can easily modify your dog’s behavior to suit your needs.
When is the click ineffective?
Suppose you’re training your dog to sit. You call your dog, you move the treat backward from your dog’s nose and over his head. Your dog is following the treat. Eventually, your dog’s butt touches the ground. Now, you click the clicker. However, you do not give your dog a treat immediately. The treat comes after three to four seconds. Possibly, because you have kept the treat in a pouch and you have to fumble to get it out of the pouch. This is not the right way of training. This way, the clicker would lose its meaning very quickly.
Your dog needs to understand that the clicker means treats or something positive. Therefore, if you click the clicker but are a few seconds delayed in offering the treat, the treat will lose its importance. Within a few seconds your dog will forget why is he receiving the treat at all. Thus, never undermine the importance of the reward timing. When you’re training your dog, consistency and timing is everything. If you do not mark the correct behavior immediately, your dog will not know why is he being given a treat at all. The treat and the marker both will lose their importance. Thus, be very careful when training.
Always have the clicker and the treats in your hand. If it is a big treat, you can chop it up beforehand and have the pieces in your hand. Do not go ahead with a big dog treat and then cut the treat once your dog has already followed the command. This will cause delay in giving the treat to your dog and the whole training process will lose its meaning.
Why use clicker training?
Positive reinforcement is the best way to train your dog. If there is no marker or clicker, the trainer will know what the dog is being rewarded for, but the dog will not. As I mentioned before, if you are teaching your dog to sit, you have to provide the reward the moment the butt touches the ground. If you provide the reward once the dog has got up from the sitting position, the reward will be for getting up and not for sitting down.
The timing of the reward also becomes crucial if you are training your dog in an environment that is distracting. If your dog does not know that he will be rewarded for a specific behavior, he may be reluctant to display the behavior at all. Let’s look at another scenario. Suppose you are teaching your dog to sit and stay sitting for a while. There are many pups who prefer to sit and immediately lift their butts off the floor. In such circumstances, having a clicker becomes imperative. Your dog needs to know exactly what he is being rewarded for, otherwise, the whole training process can go very wrong.
Suppose you are training your dog to jump through hoops. How will your dog know which is the exact time to pass through the hoop? You put the hoop in front of your dog. Your dog jumps through. You immediately click the clicker. Now your dog knows that jumping through the hoop has been marked and now he will get a treat. Therefore, your clicker will bridge the gap between the desired dog behavior and the arrival of the treat. This way, your dog will know exactly what he has done correctly.
Can praises replace clicker?
Many guardians believe that if you praise the dog, it can be more effective as a positive reward. However, dogs do not understand praises as clearly as they understand treats or the mark of the clicker. Praise is something that you use all the time, even when you are not training your dog. If you ask your dog to come and he comes to you, you praise that behavior. This behavior may have already been taught or your dog may have picked up on it automatically. Therefore, praise does not distinguish good behavior from desirable behavior.
Furthermore, the praise also does not tell your dog why is he being praised in the first place. You may just feel happy and praise your dog. Praise may come even when the dog has not displayed desirable behavior. Therefore, if you use praise for training purposes, it can cause a lot of confusion.
Clicker trained dogs love learning
One of the primary benefits of using clicker training is that it induces clarity. When you use a clicker to train your dog, your dog loves the learning process. Your dog understands that if there is a click, he has done something favorable. Therefore, your dog will try to train harder to get a click.
As per your dog, the process of clicker training and offering treat is a game. This removes the pressure from the training process. If your dog is looking for behavior to conduct that would get him a click, your training is on the right track. Clicker training helps boost communication between the dog and the guardian, helps strengthen the bond between you and your pup and makes training fun.
Advantages and disadvantages of clicker training
Clicker training is a very effective method of dog training. Once your dog learns that the click of the clicker follows a treat, he will try to conduct behaviors that would get him treats. However, like any dog training method, this method also has its own pros and cons.
Pros of the clicker training method
One of the biggest advantages of clicker training is that it can be done fairly easily. Dogs pick up on clicker training very fast. Since it is based on a reward-based training method, it allows your dog to learn new tricks fairly quickly. Within one or two training sessions, the dog starts to respond to the clicker. Even though clicker may seem repetitive, the dogs love to keep their attention on the clicker so that they know which behavior to display and when.
Cons of the clicker training method
As I mentioned before, every training method has its own advantages and disadvantages. The primary disadvantage in the case of the clicker training method is that you have to carry the clicker at all times with you. Anytime your dog displays the desired behavior even outside the home, you must click and reward it, especially if that behavior is still in the training stages. Sometimes, holding the clicker in one hand and leash in the other leaves no room for treats. Under such circumstances, you can use an open fanny pack. Pick the treat and throw it on the ground if it is difficult for you to hand it over to your dog.
The timing is crucial in clicker training. If you find it difficult to click and reward the behavior immediately, you may land up reinforcing the wrong behavior. To avoid such a scenario, have at least four to five treats in your hand before you ask your dog to follow a command. If you clicked very early or very late by mistake, make sure to correct it the next time. Dogs are very forgiving creatures. However, if you continue repeating the same mistake, you may have a harder time training.
If your dog does not like the noise of the clicker, you can use a towel to cover up the clicker and reduce the volume. You can also reduce the volume of your phone if you are using your phone as the clicker. If you are simply not comfortable with using a clicker to train your dog, you can use the word yes or a whistle to tell your dog that the behavior he has displayed is correct.
Getting your dog started on clicker training
Introducing your dog to the clicker is a fairly easy process. Choose a simple behavior that your dog readily displays and use it to train for the clicker. Suppose your dog has learned how to sit. You call your dog and ask him to sit. When your dog’s butt touches the ground, you click the clicker and offer the treat within half a second.
Suppose your dog does not know any commands. You are working with a new puppy who has not been trained yet. In such a scenario, you can simply wave the treat near the dog’s nose. When the dog sniffs the treat, click the clicker and offer the treat. Repeat this process around 10 to 20 times. By the time you reach the 10th repetition, your dog will know that click follows a treat. Now your dog is primed in the art of clicker training. You can use clicker training to train your dog in any other commands.
Tips to have a successful clicker training session
Dogs, like kids have a very short attention span. Therefore, you should not keep the training session for over 15 minutes. Stop before your dog gets tired of the game and stops responding.
You can switch between two to three behaviors during the training process. However, your focus must be on teaching your dog one specific behavior. If you are teaching your dog to sit and lay down, at one point your focus must only be on the sit command. Once your dog has aced the sit command, you can start focusing on the laydown command.
Try to not deliver more than one treat after a click. In some cases, trainers prefer to give the dog a bunch of treats after a click. This is referred to as a treat jackpot. Treat jackpot can be used if your dog has followed a difficult command all through. Big achievements deserve big rewards.
Click only once. For one desired behavior, there should not be two clicks.
Reward the small movement as well. If you are training your dog for recall, call him. On hearing your command, your dog moves a few steps in your direction. Such behavior should also be clicked and rewarded.
Constantly challenge your dog with a little more. If your dog has started to sit, encourage him to go about it faster. If you’re asking your dog to lay down, allow him to stay down for a little longer. This is referred to as ‘shaping a specific behavior’.
Why is your dog not following commands?
If your dog is not following your instruction, it is not because your dog wants to disobey you. It is because your dog has not learned the behavior yet. If you are struggling with training your dog in a specific behavior, find alternate ways to teach the commands to your dog. In most cases, guardians work in a distracting environment and do not realize that. Make sure that you are training your dog in a quiet environment that does not offer many distractions.
If you are having a bad day, do not train your dog. Do not scold, use shock collars or any other correctional training methods with clicker training. This will destroy the confidence of your dog in the training procedure
Use the clicker to remove bad behavior
If your dog is displaying a bad behavior like jumping on people, use the clicker when his paws hit the ground, not the people. When your dog stops jumping and puts his paws on the ground, click the clicker and deliver the treats. If you notice that your dog makes a lot of noise, click the clicker when your dog is not making noise and reward the behavior.
Now that you know the ins and outs of the clicker training, are you planning to give this a try? What is your go-to method for dog training? How do you tackle challenging commands? If you do not use a clicker, what is your favored instrument or command of choice for training? If you have been clicker training your dog, how long has it been? How did you get started with the clicker training process? Please leave your answers in the comment section below.
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What are your thoughts on the clicker training method? Would you like to give it a try? Please leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below. Your experiences may encourage someone else to start with the clicker training process as well. If you have any queries about this blog post or any other on the happy powers, feel free to reach out to me or any of my social media channels. You can also email me or leave your queries in the comment section. I will be happy to help.