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Training with a clicker


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I'm posting this as part of a set of helpful 'easy reference' articles for common questions and problems. Feel free to add additional info on clicker training in this thread, but please start a new thread for specific questions relating to your dog.

What is a clicker?

A clicker is a simple little device held in your hand that makes a distinctive sound when you press the button. Different designs are available, I personally like a loop that goes round the wrist so you can let go without losing it if you need to do something with that hand.

How does it work?

The clicker is a sound marker that you use to mark the exact moment your dog does what you want - like a snapshot - and also promises a reward for doing that good thing. A specific word or other sound would work too, but the advantage of the clicker is that the sound is consistent, and also unique - as opposed to a word, which could be used in normal conversation. That could be confusing for your dog.

How to start with clicker training

For training yourself in the timing, which is important, watch a tv programme and click the clicker every time a character uses a particular word. This will train you to react fast. Then charge the clicker for your dog. Like I said, it marks the moment in time that he does something you want. It also promises him a reward. So simultaneously click and give a treat. Do that five times then have a break. Then repeat that five times over the day (so five times five). Now he knows that click = reward. Every click, even accidental ones, should be rewarded. But the time between the click and the reward can be extended to a few seconds.

Using a clicker to train

You can use a clicker when your dog does something you like without your intervention, for example when he looks at you to check in with you on a walk. The click and reward teaches him you like it when he does that.

Or, you can train him to do something on cue. Here's an example.

A useful behaviour for any dog is a nose touch. Asking your dog to touch your hand with his nose allows you to move him to a position without pushing or pulling - especially helpful if your dog is heavy and strong.

Sit down and hold the clicker in one hand and a treat in the other closed hand, at his nose level. He will nudge the treat hand, as soon as he makes contact, click, then release the treat. Do the five times five, or more repetitions if necessary. Then (and this is after a few days of practice) hold your closed hand without a treat. When he nose touches it, click and reward with a treat from a table, your pocket or elsewhere. Again do your five times five repetitions. Now he has learned to nudge your hand for a reward. Then you can start to put a word to it, to later ask for this behaviour when you want it - like ”touch”.

Further reading and viewing

Clicker training was developed by Karen Pryor, her website is Karen Pryor Clicker Training | The Leader in Positive Reinforcement Training

Other animals respond well to clicker training too.

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