For all breeds of dog, clicker training is one of the most effective methods of dog obedience training. With just a simple cheap plastic clicker, you can teach your dog a whole range of commands. And the great thing is that it doesn’t take long to master clicker training.
What is clicker training?
Clicker training uses a small plastic clicker that makes a mechanical noise. Your dog can hear this noise from a distance. The aim of the training is that you teach the dog to associate commands with this clicker sound.
The idea is that the desired behavior is rewarded with the clicker sound and also treats and/or praise.
How clicker training works
When we humans get rewarded for something we do, we tend to want to repeat that particular behavior. And a dog’s mind works in exactly the same way too. If they like a particular consequence of what they do, they’re going to want to do it again and again.
The science behind animal learning and clicker training
According to science, two major types of learning are:
- Classical conditioning.
- Operant conditioning.
Classical conditioning is where you learn by association. A classic example is Pavlov’s dog experiment where dogs were trained to associate the ringing of a bell with food.
Operant conditioning is where you learn to repeat behavior because that behavior has enjoyable results. An example of this is positive reinforcement training, where you reward your dog’s good behavior with treats.
Clicker training combines both classical conditioning and operant conditioning:
- The classical conditioning is where the dog learns to associate the sound of the clicker with getting a treat. You always click the clicker before the dog gets the treat. And so after enough repetitions, the dog makes the association between the two events.
- The operant conditioning is where the dog learns to associate the required behavior (e.g. sitting) with getting the treat. The dog performs a behavior, such as sitting. They then get a treat. The dog soon learns if they perform this behavior they will get a reward.
So clicker training doesn’t start with just clicking the clicker and hoping your dog does what you want. You must first teach your dog to associate the sound of the clicker with a reward for good behavior. This is the classical conditioning part of the training.
You can do this with your dog’s favorite treats and a simple cheap clicker. You can buy clickers online or at your local pet store.
Say you are trying to teach your dog to sit. If your dog sits when commanded, click and give them a treat. The next time they sit do the same again but don’t say anything to them.
Your dog will soon realize that when they sit they will get a treat and hear a click. So when you start to click before they sit, they know they should sit. It’s quite simple when you think about it.
Clicker training is effective because a dog won’t ever hear the clicker apart from when the associated behavior is desired. The only time they hear it is to let them know they did right and they’re about to be rewarded with a treat.
In contrast, you may give the same verbal command in more than one situation. Because of this, the relationship between the command and the behavior isn’t as close in your dog’s head as it is when you use the clicker.
Another reason it’s so effective is because it makes your dog enthusiastic about learning. In effect, you’re giving your dog a degree of control over their training. When you start a training session, they’ll be aware of the clicker and be keen to find out what they have to do to get the reward.
Three basic steps to clicker training
When it comes to clicker training your dog, there are really only three steps:
- Get the behavior.
- Mark the behavior with a click of the clicker.
- Reinforce the behavior with a reward.
First, you must get the behavior. That is, you must get your dog to perform whatever behavior it is that you want. For example, you may may be trying to train them to sit or come to you on your command.
Once your dog has produced the behavior you want, you click the clicker.
And you reinforce the behavior by rewarding your dog. In this way your dog soon associates the action with the sound of the clicker.
It usually only takes a few tries before your dog will start to associate the behavior with the clicker. And once they’ve made this association, as soon as you click the clicker they’ll repeat the behavior in the hope of getting a treat.
One reason that clicker dog training is effective is because you get an immediate response from your dog. You can then quickly reward them, which cements the behavior in your dog’s mind. It takes much longer for verbal commands to sink in.
Continue repeating the click/action/reward process to reinforce the behavior. It’s not necessary to reward your dog with treats each time. Your dog will like getting praise and petted just as much and in the end you can replace the treats with this completely.
Moving on to verbal commands only
Once your dog has learned whatever you’re trying to teach it using the clicker, you can start training using a spoken command. The aim is to end up with a verbal command you can use anywhere, without the need for a clicker.
When using the clicker during training, start saying the verbal command first and then click. Once your dog performs the behavior, reward them as usual. Your dog will soon start to associate the three actions – verbal command/click/reward – with each other.
And in the end, with good training, your dog will respond to your verbal commands and praise and petting only. That is they’ll learn the spoken command. You won’t need the clicker or the treats any more. Your dog will just know that when you issue a particular command, a certain response from them pleases you. And dogs love to please their owners!
Clicker training can make dog training much easier. With just a clicker and some treats, you can teach your dog almost any behavior. And there are many advantages to having a well behaved dog, not least of which is the stronger bond that will develop between dog and owner.