How to Use a Dog Clicker

If you’ve been considering how to train your dog, you’ve probably heard of clicker training. How to use a dog clicker is not too difficult, but it takes discipline.

If you’re willing to put in the time, you’ll be rewarded by a dog who will do almost anything.

Clicker training a dog is not too difficult, and today we’ll run through some of the basics of clicker training.

What is a Dog Clicker?

An actual dog clicker comes in a few forms. The simplest one is just a small plastic box that contains a crimped piece of metal. When the piece of metal is pressed, the it bends suddenly and creates a “click” noise.

More advanced clickers are even battery powered to create a distinct sound. But it’s important to know that the clicker is just a tool. Some trainers replace the clicker with a distinct sound of their own. You can use a whistle, tongue clicks, or a snap. Some trainers who work with deaf animals replace the clicker with a visual cue like a flashlight or hand sign.

You can use almost whatever you want in “clicker training” but just remember that you have to keep your cue exactly the same every time you use it. This is why actual words are not a great cue. We sometimes change the inflection of our voices and dogs can easily pick up on that.

Without enough consistency, clicker training will not work.

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Why Does Clicker Training Work?

Whatever type of clicker you chose to use, the most important thing is that it is the exact same every time you use it. You want to have a static cue that gets the dogs attention and that the dog has associated with reward. Reward is how clicker training works. You are associating the click with reward. And a click is an immediate cue.

Imagine trying to train your dog to sit. You stand in front of your dog, ask them to sit for you. When their bottom touches the ground, you shove a treat in their mouth. How long was it between the desired action and the reward? A second? Two seconds? Not a lot of time, and your dog can see that you are in the process of rewarding them when they did what you asked.

What about if you wanted your dog to turn the lights off from across the room? You want them to know that flicking the switch is the desired action, but how are you going to give them a treat when you’re all the way across the room? The answer is the clicker. When your dog flicks the switch, you immediately give them a click. They’ll know that they are going to get rewarded when they hear the click so they are being positively reinforced to flick the switch next time.

How to Use a Dog Clicker

That’s how to use a dog clicker. When your dog does the desired action, you click and immediately give them a treat. But step one is to have your dog associate the click with a treat. Here’s how you do it.

  • Count out ten treats
  • Get your dog’s attention
  • Click then immediately give your dog a treat
  • Continue this until all ten treats are gone

That’s it, but let’s look at what you actually did. You just taught your dog that the sound of a click means reward. You’ve built a positive association between the click and a reward. You’ve given a kind of weight behind each click. Your dog now thinks that each time a click is heard, they will get a reward. And it’s now your job to make that true.

Again, consistency is the name of the game. Your dog thinks that a click means they get a treat, and if you click the clicker and do not reward your dog, they will stop associating the sound with reward and will regress. Don’t let that happen.

Give it a try though. After you have conditioned your dog with the clicker, ask them to complete a few tasks. Try sit. Ask them to sit if you have already taught them the skill. If not, this is the perfect opportunity to use the clicker. An easy way to get a dog to sit is to kneel in front of them, and slowly pass a treat over their head. As they watch the treat, naturally their head will go back and their rump will go down. The second their butt hits the floor, click the clicker and give them the treat.

What you’ve done is “marked” the action you want to see. The exact moment your dog sits is now marked as what you ask for when you ask them to sit. No matter how long it takes for you to get the treat to your dog’s mouth, they know from the clicker that sitting is what got them the reward.

Once you and your dog get the hang of a clicker, you’ll be able to start teaching your dog more advanced skills. Need someone to turn the lights off or get your slippers? The clicker is very handy for these kinds of tricks.

Important Tips to Remember

Remember, how to use a dog clicker is just as important as when you use it. The click needs to be followed by a reward as immediately as possible. If you do not, you risk ruining the association your dog has made to the reward.

Lastly, clicker training isn’t meant to last forever. What you want to do is catch your dog doing the desired behavior and mark it so they know they will be rewarded. Eventually, you’ll want to remove the treat. Just remember that if you remove the reward to quickly you can deteriorate all of your hard work.

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