You want to teach your dog some basic manners, and maybe some serious tricks. Where do you start with dog training? Hiring a professional dog trainer or joining a group dog training class will easily ensure your success, and give you a support system. If you aren’t ready to hire a dog trainer or commit to a group training class then clicker training at home might be the answer. Let’s learn some of the basic’s to see if its a good fit for you.
Clicker training makes training easy by ensuring that your four-legged friend knows exactly what you want.
So, what is it? Wikipedia says this:
Clicker training is an animal training method based on a bridging stimulus (the clicker) in operant conditioning. The system uses conditioned reinforcers, which a trainer can deliver more quickly and more precisely than primary reinforcers such as food. The term “clicker” comes from a small metal cricket noisemaker adapted from a child’s toy that the trainer uses to precisely mark the desired behavior. When training a new behavior, the clicker helps the animal to quickly identify the precise behavior that results in the treat. The technique is popular with dog trainers, but can be used for all kinds of domestic and wild animals and small children.
Sooo, what is it?? Yeah, that’s a lot of words but it boils down to this:
By using a defined CLICK to mark the exact moment your dog does the behavior you want you are cutting out the guess work. When I give the command “sit” and then I CLICK when the dogs bum touches the ground I have now let him know THAT was the thing I wanted him to do. The timing is very important in training, and the clicker is faster and more clear than voice. The reward comes after the click, but the timing of that isn’t as important because the dog knows WHY they are getting the reward. In this case, because his tush hit the floor.
Your dog will understand that when they hear the click you liked what they did and they will get a reward. They are eager to figure out how to make the click happen so they can get the reward! An eager dog is far easier to train.
This video gives a quick clicker 101, totally worth a watch.
Now, you may be thinking – I don’t want to carry a clicker with me everywhere! Or, I don’t always have treats with me, and my dog is going to gain weight. You aren’t alone, over the years many misconceptions about clicker training have developed. Time to debunk those negative thoughts creeping in so you can get to your dog training.
Myth: Clickers are used in place of a treat
Clickers don’t stop a behavior, nor do they give a command. The clicker is definitely not the reward! Using a clicker is signifying that they did the thing you wanted and a reward is coming. Once the dog associates the “click” with a reward, overall training is improved. The clicker never takes the place of a reward, it signals that one is coming.
Myth: I will have to carry a clicker into eternity and beyond
That is far more of a commitment than I want to make, and definitely not true. The clicker is used primarily to help a dog learn a new behavior, once that behavior is learned the clicker can then be phased out (often replaced by a word, such as “yes”). You do not have to use the clicker every time the dog performs the behavior after it is learned, therefore you do not need to always carry the clicker after training. Phew, that’s a relief!
Myth: Clicker Training is all about the food
I love food. Your dog loves food. But sometimes there is a better reward for some of our four legged friends. Food is not the only thing that a dog wants; eye contact, verbal praise, play, toys/tug, attention, scratches, are only a few of the things you can use to praise and reward your dog with clicker training. You know your dog best, if s/he isn’t interested in the food then just play around with some other rewards until you figure out what motivates your pup.
Looking for a little in-person help?
Reach out to Barks and Recreation and we can give you an in-person Clicker Training 101. If you are looking for more in-depth dog training with your fur babies we highly recommend My Dogs Place in Stonington and East Lyme CT for all your dog training needs.
Here are some additional resources we recommend on kick-starting Clicker Training with your dog!
Ian Dunbar – Dog-Friendly Training
Karen Pryor – Don’t Shoot The Dog