Clicker Training - What/Why/How?



What is it?


A training clicker is a small handheld box that has a button that makes a click sounds when pressed. The click sound is used to signal to the dog that they have done something right and that good things will follow. It therefore replaces terms like Yes, Good Boy/Girl, Well Done, etc.


Don't let it's simplicity fool you - clicker training is favoured by many trainers for several reasons. Read about the pros and cons of clicker training in the next section.


Why do it?


Clicker training has several benefits over verbal phrases and only a few downsides.


Pros:

  • It's unique. A consistent, unique signal of good behaviour can help speed up training as it is unambiguous what it means. This is important if people in the household (particularly children) have a tendency to overuse terms like Good Boy/Girl even if the dog hasn't done anything.

  • The sound isn't affected by the person using it. Tone of voice, volume and different accents are removed from the equation which makes it easier to understand for the dog.

  • It's quick. A short, clear noise is useful when trying to embed a new behaviour. As dogs learn through repetition (and association), a clicker allows you to do lots of repetition in a short space of time.

  • It's processed more efficiently by the brain. Experts believe the click noise is processed by a different part of the brain to noises with tonality (i.e. language). The result is that the noise can be understood quickly which helps with learning.

  • It establishes a "training mindset". Once you get into the routine of using a clicker most dogs will understand that it can lead to rewards and will therefore be more focused on earning those rewards through behaviours.

Cons:

  • They're very cheap, but they're not free. Expect to pay £2-5 for a training clicker.

  • It's another thing to remember. If you train whilst on your walks you'll need to remember to bring the clicker with you each time.

  • The handling/mechanics take a bit of getting used to. Timing is important when signalling to your dog that they've done something right. Switching from a verbal signal to a hand-delivered signal sometime's trips people up.


How do I do it?


Follow the steps below to get started:


Prepare:


  • Buy a clicker! Google "dog training clicker" or search on Amazon. Don't worry too much about type - just pick one that gets good reviews for quality.

  • Prepare rewards. Most people will use food. Small, moist, easily swallowed chunks are best. Most dogs will respond well to chicken but always be mindful of any allergies/intolerance your dog may have.

  • Gather your dog somewhere distraction-free like the living room. Have your clicker in one hand with your finger poised on the button. Have treats in the other hand and be ready to feed.


Charge your clicker:


"Charging a clicker" means conditioning your dog to understand what the click noise means: rewards. Charging is important as initially the noise will mean nothing to them. Once you've charged a clicker a few times most dogs will understand how the game works. At that point, you can go straight to training.


To charge a clicker:


  • Let your dog see/smell the treats in your hand

  • Press the clicker and immediately deliver a treat to their mouth

  • Repeat, repeat, repeat. Quickly do several repetitions of this to embed the new learning. On your first go, do upwards of 30 repetitions.

  • To test whether your dog understands you should now take a short break (around 2-3 minutes). Let them settle or wander off etc. After a few minutes, press the clicker again when they're near you. If they immediately give you attention then the clicker is charged. Your dog has learned that the noise = good things and will pay attention when they hear it in the hopes of earning rewards.

  • If they don't respond - do more repetitions over several short sessions and try again.


Train with the clicker:


  • Pick a behaviour your dog can already do (I'll use Sit for this example)

  • Gather your dog somewhere distraction-free like the living room. Have your clicker in one hand with your finger poised on the button. Have treats in the other hand and be ready to feed.

  • Ask your dog to Sit

  • Click when they sit down

  • Reward them with a treat


Starting with a behaviour your dog can already do is useful for getting them used to clicker training. If you pick a new, unlearned behaviour you can risk confusing the dog. Always introduce one new thing at a time in dog training.


What next:


Get in the habit of using the clicker when training with your dog. If you're teaching a new behaviour, make sure you know how to go about doing it before you start to avoid devaluing the tool.


Clicker training can be used in most situations/for most behaviours.

For more information, read up on one of the most famous proponents of clicker training, Karen Pryor. Follow this link to her website.



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