Clicker Training A Dog

No matter what breed your dog is, basic obedience training is very important in helping to mold him into a loving, obedient, happy member of your family. It’s best to start training your dog as early as possible, preferably while he is still a young puppy. One method of training that is gaining in popularity, is “clicker” training.

What is clicker training?

Clicker training uses a small handheld device that makes a loud, sharp clicking sound to confirm to your dog that a command has been performed correctly, and that you are pleased with his performance. This method is reward based, which means that when your dog performs the correct command, he will then hear the “click” immediately which in turn will be followed by some type of reward. This method is not only very simple to understand, but very powerful. Once your dog learns that the click means a treat, he will be anxious to learn and will learn quickly.

What are the benefits of clicker training?

The clicker training method has several benefits:

  • This method is simple to teach – there are no complicated strategies or difficult hand commands to learn.
  • This method can be used by anyone – both adults and children can learn this method easily, which will make training your dog something the whole family can do together.
  • This method uses positive reinforcement to teach – no negative treatment, verbal or physical abuse or shouting is used.
  • This method is less confusing to your dog – he will always hear commands as simple one-word commands, with the same tone, same sound, no need for complicated sentences or complicated strategies.
  • This method gets your dog’s attention quickly and easily – even a distracted puppy will stop the moment they hear the clicking sound. The trainer will not have to shout and will have less difficulty getting the dog’s attention.
  • This method does not force your dog to learn – but rather encourages him to learn by positive reinforcement and praise. Your dog will be eager to learn, rather than bored or frustrated with what your are forcing him to learn.

How to clicker train:

The clicker training method trains your dog to follow basic commands in three steps:

  1. Give the verbal command
  2. Click the clicker when your dog has followed the command correctly
  3. Give your dog the reward

The first thing you will need to do is get your dog familiar with the clicking sound and that positive reinforcement (or reward) will follow the sound. This is done by simply clicking the clicker and instantly giving your dog a treat. To test the progress your dog has made, you should gradually begin waiting till your dog is distracted and then click the clicker. If your dog responds immediately to the sound of the clicker, reward him; as this shows he has made the association with the sound and has learned its purpose.
Once you are certain your dog understands the purpose of the clicker you can begin teaching him the basic commands such as sit, stay, lay down, stop (or heel), etc. When teaching your dog, it is best to choose one command and teach it until your dog knows it well and responds correctly before choosing a different command to teach. Simplicity and consistency is the key to success in training your dog. Too many commands at once will confuse him, and not allow him a fair opportunity to learn each one well. As with humans, every dog is unique, so some will learn commands and behaviors quicker than others. No matter what training method you use, be patient.
As your dog learns commands, you will eventually be able to phase out the clicker, as your dog will hear the command, perform it without hesitation, knowing with certainty that it will be followed by your love and praise.

Clicker Training Tips

As with any training method, the success of the method is based on how well the trainer performs, as well as the dog. If the trainer is inconsistent, impatient, or sends conflicting signals or confusing information for the same command, the training will be frustrating and in many instances, a failure. Here are some important things to remember when clicker training:

  1. Timing – this is critically important as clicking too soon (before the command was performed correctly) will teach the dog whatever behavior he is performing at that moment. For example, if you ask him to sit and he sits for two seconds then gets up and jumps around or goes somewhere else, and you click, he will learn he only has to sit for two seconds, rather than sitting there until you tell him he can move.
  2. Training Environment – this should be during a quiet time of day that does not conflict with any normal routines such as a walk, eating or when there is lots of activity in the house. This will help reduce the number of possible distractions for your dog and interruptions to your training session.
  3. Consistency – this is critical in order to keep this training method simple and easy for your dog to grasp quickly. Keeping an animal focused is tricky because they can become distracted so easily, especially a young puppy. Always use the exact same tone of your voice, and exact same word to teach a particular command or behavior. Deviating at all from this will solicit a different response from your dog, rather than the desired “same” behavior each time you give him a command.
  4. Reward – because this is a reward based training method, while teaching, you need to make sure you always reward your dog when he has performed a command correctly; since this is essentially the contract you have made with him by choosing this training method. Eventually you will be able to phase out the treats and replace it with praise, a pat on the head or a hug. Note: Keep the treat very tiny and nutritious as you don’t want your dog’s weight or health to be compromised while training.
  5. Length – it is important to keep training sessions brief, approximately 15 minutes or so, to help make sure both you and your dog do not become bored or frustrated during difficult sessions, and also to help ensure your dog will look forward to the sessions because they will not be too stressful and too lengthy and exhaustive.

Things to remember when clicker training

To help make clicker training more successful, here are some things you should remember:

  • Keep your clicker and a handful of treats in your pocket at all times during the training period (even when not in a training session), as this method helps to “shape behaviors” beyond the basic commands too. When you see your dog behaving in a way that pleases you, a quick click and a treat instantly will teach him that what he is doing at the time is very good and pleases you very much. He will learn to replicate that behavior often to get the treat, and eventually to get your praise.
  • Training any animal will be more rewarding, more successful and progress more efficiently and smoothly if both the trainer and the animal enjoy the experience. Remember that this training should be fun, which will help you find it easier to be patient, plus this will be a great bonding experience for you and your dog.
  • Practice learned commands often to make sure your dog has learned them and does not forget them. If you find your dog seems to have forgotten a command you are sure he learned previously, do not scold him, but simply go back a step or two and train the command again. His confusion may not be him misbehaving, but may actually be the result of your having moved ahead too quickly.

What method did you use to train your dog? Share with us in the comments!

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