By Jessica Ring, Unleashed Joy Dog Trainer
What the heck is clicker training anyway?
Why use a clicker?
A clicker is a small plastic object that makes a distinct “click” noise when pressed. For many trainers and owners, the clicker provides us with a way to be more clear and less confusing. The click is a distinct, consistent, unique sound. It doesn’t take on an annoyed or frustrated tone. It stands out from all of our meaningless chatter. The clicker also helps us improve our timing. We use the clicker to communicate, “Hey, that right there in that instant, that’s what I’m asking you to do!” The click marks an exact moment for the dog, and is always followed by reinforcement, such as a delicious tidbit of food. (But clicker training is even more than that…it is also a philosophy. We do not use force, pain or other aversive methods.)
Do I HAVE to?
A lot of us were initially intimidated by the clicker, or maybe just resistant to having to carry it around. But here’s the secret. It’s easy. It just takes a little practice at first. And you don’t need to use it all of the time, just when training new behaviors and refining existing ones. For those times when your clicker isn’t handy, we recommend a verbal marker. (More on that later.) Yes, your dog can still learn without the clicker, but we find many people are much better trainers when they use the clicker.
Ok, so how do I get started?
To start, you will “charge the clicker.” This will help you become more comfortable using the clicker and will introduce the clicker to your dog. Some dogs are extremely sensitive to sound, so start out with the clicker in your pocket or wrapped up in a towel or your shirt. Press the clicker so it makes the click sound. Feed the dog a small treat. Click, and follow it with a treat again. Repeat this a dozen times or so, and if your dog seems okay with the sound, hold the clicker behind your back, now unwrapped. Click, treat, and repeat another dozen times or so. Your dog should be starting to anticipate the treat once he hears the click at this point. You can hold your hand with the clicker more naturally now. (Just be careful to avoid clicking right in your dog’s face.) Next, pick a behavior your dog already knows, such as “sit.” Ask your dog to sit, and as soon as he does, click then treat! It’s as simple as that.
The click always comes first, and the treat comes after. You have a few seconds after the click, so there is not need to panic or feel rushed. But it is important that the click always predicts a treat or other reinforcement.
Pick a distinct verbal sound to use in place of a click for those times when your clicker isn’t handy. Some people say “click” in a distinct way or make a click sound. Some say “yes” in a way not used in normal conversation. It doesn’t really matter, as long as it is distinct and you practice being very consistent and clear.