Clicker Training 101
Today we are going to explore a popular training tool, the clicker. We will discover what a clicker is, why it is a helpful tool, how to introduce the clicker, and some uses for the clicker. Let's get clicking!
What is a clicker?
A clicker is a training device that comes in several styles and colors. Some are called box clickers, they are usually very loud and can sometimes spook the dog you are trying to train. Then there are click sicks and clickers that have a little button on them. These other two options are not nearly so loud.
What all these training tools have in common is that they have a place that you press. When you press, the tool makes a clicking sound. Clickers are made so that the click sound they make is as consistent as possible. This aids in the training process.
Why Would You Use A Clicker?
So, what does the click mean to the dog and how will it help with training? The click indicates that a treat is coming very soon. It is like telling your dog "good boy" and following that with a treat.
The benefit of using a clicker is that the click sound is consistent. Where a human voice is rarely consistent. You might say "good boy" to mark good behavior in your dog but sometimes your tone of voice is stressed, sarcastic, overexcited, or you have a cold! While this can still work, using a clicker is faster and more consistent. This will help your dog have more consistent results in training.
In addition, some owners are not as good at praising a dog as others are. For some saying "good dog" like you mean it is almost impossible! Enter, the clicker. You don't have to try to sound enthusiastic or talk more then you like to, you can just click.
An example, you are potty training your dog and you take him out to potty. It's 4 a.m. and raining. You just want your pup to hurry up and go. Finally, he does. Now, you could, at this point, either rush back in the house and not praise the puppy at all I mean "why did he have to potty at a ridiculous time like this anyway?" Or you could give the puppy some slight, unenthusiastic praise, that you know the puppy knows sounds lame. Or you could simply click and treat. The puppy has no idea that you are irritated about having to take them out in the rain. When you click the puppy just knows "yay, potting outside is what my person wants me to do and now I get a treat!"
How To Introduce A Clicker
Okay, so this clicker sounds pretty great, right? How do I introduce it to my dog? First, you are going to need to collect your clicker, some tasty treats, and your dog. It's best to start in a low distraction environment.
Once you have assembled all the necessary things and your dog knows you have treats, extend an empty hand toward your dog. He will likely sniff it hoping that there are treats in it. When he sniffs your hand click your clicker, pause for a moment, and then offer a treat.
So, why the pause in between the click and treat? This is to help you to click before presenting the treat. If you present the treat first he will not know that the click means good things are coming, the good thing will have already come. So, click, pause, treat.
Pausing also helps the dog to focus on the noise vs hand movement. If while you click you are moving your hand in to give your dog the treat. Your dog may associate the hand moving toward him as the signal for reward and not the click sound. That is why you want to click, pause, treat.
You can continue to offer your empty hand and click, pause, treat every time he touches your hand with his nose. After he is consistently touching your hand you can add a cue like "nose" or "touch." Just say your cue, offer your hand, when he touches your hand with his nose, click, pause, treat. Boom! You've just trained your dog a new trick, to touch his nose to your hand!
This can be a handy trick for your dog to learn. You can use it to distract your dog when a car, bicycle, or other dog goes by on a walk. You can also use it to get your dog's attention when company comes over.
Uses For The Clicker
Clickers are awesome from training, but you can also use a clicker to let your dog know anytime he has done something right. Click when he potties outside. Click when he chooses to sit and not jump on the company. Click when he brings the ball back to you instead of playing keep away. Click when looks at you instead of distractions on a walk.
You can use clickers to train an initial behavior like "nose." But you can also use a clicker to further refine the training. Perhaps you want the dog to be able to "nose" softly. Once he is good at "nose," only click when your dog touches his nose softly to your hand. If his boops your hand too hard no click, no treat. He will quickly catch on that you want the touches of his nose to be soft against your hand.
You can also click for faster responses to teach your dog that you want him to respond quickly. When teaching your dog to speak you can teach him to speak louder or quieter with the clicker.
You can also shaping more involved tricks. Clicking for each part of the trick until he has mastered that part and then add on another part of the trick. Have him go to the tissue box, click. Have him grab a tissue, click. Have him bring the tissue back to you, click. Have him give you the tissue, click. Then add the cue for the trick, for this example, it would be you sneezing!
Be sure to always follow the click with a treat. That is what the click means "treat." It must be consistent for your dog to know that and to trust that a click means treat.
As you can see the clicker can be a powerful training tool to let your dog know that he has done a good job. Clicker training can be used for the most basic of commands to those that are much more elaborate! So, grab a clicker and some delicious treats and have some clicker fun with your dog.