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How to Use a Clicker for Dog Training

What is clicker training?

Clicker training is one of the many ways to use positive reinforcement while training a dog. A clicker is a small plastic or metal object with a button in the middle that makes a “click” sound everytime you press it.

A clicker is used while training in order to mark the right behavior when performed. Not only dogs, but several other species like bunnies, cats, birds, rats, horses, giraffes and also dolphins can be trained using clickers.

How to use a clicker:

To be able to use the clicker to teach new behaviors to a dog, the dog first needs to know what a clicker is. A clicker is used as a marker that makes a “click” sound, to mark the behavior we want to reinforce. In other words, it should be clicked everytime the dog performs a desirable behavior and must be followed up with a reward.

The consistent reward that follows the sound of the clicker is what helps your dog respond to the clicker. It helps your dog associate clicker with positivity and puts his love for repetition to good use.

The clicker is more accurate and quicker in terms of capturing a behavior. We may very well get delayed while rewarding a dog for a certain outcome. However, the clicker makes the dog aware of the exact desirable behavior that gets them rewarded consistently.

Step by Step guide to familiarize a dog with the clicker:

Step 1 – Use a clicker that is loud enough for your dog to hear but not so loud as to startle him

Step 2 – Click once. If it captures your dog’s attention, reward him with a treat

Step 3 – Keep repeating Step 2 till you reach a point where you click and your dog is expecting a treat

Step 4 – Ask your dog to perform a couple of simple commands that he already knows. Eg – Ask your dog to Sit. Click AS your dog is getting into the Sit position. Reward.

Step 4 – To teach a new cue, using a treat, lure the dog in the desired position of the cue and click WHILE it is happening.

Step 5 – Click and reward for every repetition

Some tips to get started with the clicker:

  1. Don’t mindlessly keep clicking the clicker if you’re not going to follow it up with a reward. This will make your dog turn a deaf ear to the clicker

  2. Timing is of utmost importance when it comes to using a clicker. Make sure to click AS the desired behavior is happening.

  3. Avoid using clickers in noisy situations where the sound of the clicker may fade into the environment

  4. Never use clickers to mark undesirable behaviors. Never follow it up with punishment

  5. Avoid clicking and rewarding at the same time. Your dog needs time to register the sound of the clicker, it’s relation to the behavior and anticipate the reward.

  6. Keep sessions short to keep clicker training fun

  7. Reward your dog even if you mistakenly clicked

  8. Don’t just limit the rewards to treats. Engage with your dog with a ton of verbal praise. With the absence of human emotions and interaction, clicker training may become quite mechanical

  9. Don’t use the clicker to get your dog’s attention. It is to be used only to mark a desirable behavior

  10. Give time and patience

The Shaping Method:

Shaping is a dog training technique used to break down complex commands. It means we teach the dog to perform several small behaviors in order to be able to perform one final behavior. It simplifies the process of training and makes learning more effective.

Timing is of utmost importance while shaping using a clicker. Before beginning, you should have a plan of what the probable steps of the behaviour should look like. The steps must be easy and something the dog can and likely will do easily. Build up in logical steps to the finished behaviour. For example, if you want to train your dog to ‘play dead’, following may be the steps to shape it using a clicker –

  1. Lure your dog to go in the down position. Click as it happens

  2. Move your hand from their nose toward their shoulder, luring them to roll flat on their side. As they begin to roll and reach halfway, click and reward

  3. The desirable outcome is to make them lie on their back for a few seconds. So, as they start rolling further on their back, lightly place a hand on the side to prevent them from rolling further. When they come to a stop for a few seconds, click and reward

  4. After several repetitions of Steps 1,2 and 3, click and reward only for the final desired outcome

Benefits of clicker training:

1. Timing accuracy

When it comes to dog training, timing is the difference between making it better or making it worse. Dogs are excellent at recognizing the exact behavior (good or bad) that consistently gets them rewarded. Furthermore, dogs live in the moment. If you wait for more than a few seconds to mark the correct behavior, chances are your has no idea why he is getting rewarded.

A clicker marks the exact behavior as it is happening thereby giving you time after to reward your dog.

2. Operates at the speed of the dog (at times its not possible to reward fast enough)

There is no doubt about the fact that dogs can be quick on their feet. The clicker operates at the speed of the dog and helps you capture the exact desired moment. It helps build duration while training and enables you to hold your dog’s attention for a longer time.

3. Positive reinforcement

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