How to Use a Clicker to Train Your Dog
Dogs are incredibly smart creatures, and you can train your dog with a unique set of goals revolving around your lifestyle. Basic training commands and behaviors are necessary for practically all dogs, as standard training helps them fit into society with manners. Regardless of what you’re training your dog for, finding an efficient strategy is one of the most important goals for owners and trainers.
Using a clicker to train can be an extremely efficient method of generating desired responses without the use of constant treat-feeding. To understand clicker training, we must think back to the basics of positive reinforcement. The main idea is to reward a dog for good behaviors, encouraging them to exhibit these behaviors if they want further rewards. For example, when you are training your dog to sit down, you give them a treat when they do. When you use a reward like a treat or praise, you are letting your dog know that they did something you are happy with — and something that can make them happy, as well!
The exceptional dog training team at Greenlin Pet Resorts uses a variety of training methods and practices to give dogs a well-rounded educational experience. We can aid you in your goals, including mastering clicker training to reinforce a variety of responses. To find a Greenlin training center near you, contact us online. We have 6 locations in the Harrisburg area and skilled team members available during business hours to help you learn more!
What is Clicker Training for Dogs?
Clicker training, otherwise known as the mark-and-reward method, adds another layer to a positive reinforcement structure. The clicker, or mark, is a signal that lets your dog know precisely what good behavior you are rewarding. For example, when you are training your dog to sit down, as they follow the command you press the clicker and then offer a treat.
A clicker is simply a small mechanical noisemaker, and you can find clickers specifically meant for this purpose online and in many pet stores. Your dog’s behaviors are inherently a choice, so when they trust you as an owner and trainer, they want to continue to do things that you deem rewardable. This can be important to remember when you are trying to wean your dog off needing the tasty reward.
When you press the clicker at the exact time your dog carries out a rewardable behavior, you can effectively “mark” that moment and help them better decipher what you are rewarding. This can have an extremely productive effect on how easily your dog learns certain behaviors. It can also reduce the need for treats or any other specific response from the owner, as the click itself becomes the “reward” in the dog’s brain, reinforcing that they did something correct.
What is the Significance of the Click?
There is nothing truly magical about the click, except for the fact that it is likely a sound your dog doesn’t typically hear. The click can be substituted for practically anything, as long as it is a unique noise that they wouldn’t generally mix up with anything else in their daily life.
If the clicker noise doesn’t work for your dog, there are many other sounds you could pair with this technique, such as a verbal cue or even something like a tap on the back for auditorily impaired pups. It is also important that the sound is unique to their environment and remains the same every time.
The effective nature of the clicker training method relies on the reward to help your dog understand that the clicker has a positive association. Persistence is key for the clicker method, as your results may vary at first until the dog finally begins to draw strong associations. The most crucial aspects of clicker training are accurately marking the right moment and doing it consistently.
Why the Clicker Training Method?
When you reward your dog for good behavior, what you are rewarding may be obvious to you, but that isn’t always the case for your dog. The clicker noise helps your dog pinpoint what you are happy about. If every time you snapped your fingers someone gave you five dollars, you would probably snap your fingers a lot more often. But, what if you blinked and smiled around the same time? How would you know that you are being rewarded for snapping? It’s the same principle with training a dog. They can easily confuse the stimulus — what led to the reward — with the response of receiving a reward. Their confusion can lead to delayed following of commands, or in worst cases reinforcement of the wrong behaviors.
The clicker is opportunity to communicate with your dog and shape their personality through behaviors you deem rewardable. If your dog gets easily distracted or only understands the command only some of the time, the clicker training method may be a beneficial approach to add to your training routine. Clicker training can also be used to cumulatively build up a series of performed behaviors in a sequence, clicking throughout, whereas giving them a treat or individual praise could introduce cumbersome delays during training.
How to Use the Clicker Training Method
Before you can jump right into positive reinforcement training with a clicker, you have to help your dog establish their relationship with the clicker. This can be as simple as pressing the clicker and offering them a treat repeatedly. After enough repetition, your dog should understand that clicker means reward and reward means good behavior.
This method is useful for passive, unplanned training as well. For example, if your dog is calmly waiting for their meal instead of wildly jumping around trying to get a sample of their meal, you can use your clicker and offer them a reward. This way, they retain that they have carried out good behaviors and you may continue to reward them for doing so.
What Happens When I Stop Giving My Dog Treats?
Eventually, you’ll feel comfortable weaning your dog off of tasty rewards. Admittedly, too many treats can obviously have some pretty negative effects. Although your dog doesn’t know that, it is important to monitor how many treats you give your dog at once.
At the beginning of your training cycle with a specific command, you’ll have to reward the good behavior every time, but once they have gotten the rhythm of the command, you can transition into other rewards like praise and pets. With clicker training, you can eventually forego treats or even obvious praise until the end of a training cycle, keeping your dog focused on the task itself and hearing the clicks rather than waiting for a sign of appreciation from you directly.
Tips for Successful At-Home Training Sessions
Training at home and in a facility are two completely different experiences for a pup. When your dog is at home, they are in their own territory where they are comfortable and may get easily distracted. A training facility offers a neutral playing field.
When you train your dog at home, there are a few key strategies that may help increase productivity in your training sessions. Try these tips when training your dog at home:
- Keep training sessions short: A 15-minute training session is recommended for owners training their dogs at home. A longer training session doesn’t always mean a more productive one.
- Don’t overwhelm them with too many commands at once: It can get confusing trying to process a variety of commands at once, so try to limit each training session to 3 (maximum) commands. When building commands in a sequence, such as during agility training, try to focus on one sequence at a time to improve response and reduce confusion.
- Match the reward to the effort: Sometimes one little treat isn’t going to cut it. If you want to emphasize the effort that your dog puts into a specific training command, give them more than one treat at once to communicate that. This is known as a “reward jackpot.”
Greenlin Pet Resorts is a Canine’s Place to Be!
Whether you want your dog to stay, train, or play, the Greenlin Pet Resorts facilities are a perfect one-stop shop. Our skilled dog trainers can help your dog learn valuable commands and develop rewardable behaviors. We have a variety of training classes to suit your lifestyle and schedule, including the ability to aid with clicker training and advanced training for activities like dog agility (at select locations).
We have 6 locations in the Harrisburg area. To learn more about the dog training services at Greenlin, or to find a location near you, contact us online.