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Have you ever heard of clicker training for dogs, or maybe even given it a try yourself?
Here’s everything you need to know about clicker training, and step-by-step instructions for doing it the right way.
What Is Clicker Training?
Clicker training is the most humane and effective way to learn your dog or any other pet to do what you want them to do.
It was originally invented by marine mammal trainers and requires a mechanical device called a clicker (you can find it on Amazon), various treats, and most importantly accuracy and patience.
Clicker training is teaching your pet new things in a fun and positive way based on rewarding them with a treat for their good behaviour. In a way, you’re training your dog while also communicating with him, which is why it’s better than standard training methods based on using only commands. This is not to say that commands are a bad way to train your dog – far from it – however, clicker training will add an element of non-ambiguous communication with your pet that will help immensely.
Besides dogs, you can use this positive reinforcement training method on cats, rabbits, and horses.
Basically, you click right after your dog does what you want him to do, and give him a treat immediately. If you think about it, when you reward your dog the desirable behaviour, there are more chances for him to repeat the good behaviour.
Preparing for the Clicker Training
First, your dog has to learn that the sound of the clicker means a treat is following. In the beginning, a click doesn’t mean anything to your dog. So, in order to make him want to hear and “earn” the click, you’ll need ten small treats.
Now, what you have to do is click and give your dog a treat, click and treat, click and treat until you’re out of treats. In this way, you’ll make your dog pay attention to the sound of the clicker and expect a treat.
How to Start Dog Clicker Training
As we said, you’ll need a clicker and food treats the size of your fingernail. This is the size recommended for dogs, and the best idea would be to give him his own food.
Go to some quiet area with your dog where there are little or no distractions. After you make sure your dog is familiar with the sound of the clicker you’ll use, and is not sound sensitive, begin with an easy task like touching your hand, mat, or a ball.
In the beginning, don’t expect or wait for your dog to do the task completely before clicking and giving him a treat. Instead, as he approaches the target, click and feed.
But, never click close to your dog’s ears or point the clicker at him. Make the whole process in small steps, and make sure you give your dog a treat EVERY SINGLE TIME you click, even if you click accidentally.
Never mix clicker training with scolding or correction training, even if you’re mad or frustrated. In contrary, your dog might lose confidence in the clicker and even in you.
Let’s get back to the first task. Let’s say you have said to your dog to touch the ball. As he approaches to the mat, click and give him a treat. Don’t use words or do anything that might distract him from the task.
Once your dog touches the ball, click and give him extra treats immediately. If your dog does some things without you asking him to do like touching the ball, don’t click and feed him with a treat.
However, you should still make sure he knows he did a good thing by saying “good boy,” etc.
Keep Clicker Training Sessions Short
At this point, it’s important to realize that your dog has made progress and not to expect or ask him to repeat it over and over again.
Let him rest or play some game with him and just spend some quality time with your pet. Remember that doing three 5-minute training sessions a day is more effective and fun than doing a boring one-hour training.
If you’re too happy when your dog does the desired action and want to express that enthusiasm, don’t click more than once. Instead, you can give him more than one treat, but only one click.
How to Continue with the Clicker Training
The next step would be to add some word that tells what you expect them to do. For instance, say “sit” or “touch” and don’t give him a treat until he does that very thing. In this way, you are teaching your dog that he is physically and mentally capable of doing certain behaviors.
Why Using a Clicker and Not Just Words
The click sounds the same every single time, unlike our voice which can vary depending on our mood. Since animals are not verbal creatures like people, picking out a single word like “touch” or “quiet” from the countless and meaningless words they hear us speak all the time, can be quite difficult.
On the other hand, a click would always be a click and could only mean one thing – treat! They hear this sound in no other occasion, and that’s why a click is more effective than the spoken words.
How Long to Use a Clicker and Treats
Once your dog learns the behavior on cue, you’ll no longer need to use a clicker and treats to make your dog do the desired thing. However, you shouldn’t exclude the rewards entirely, but instead of treats, you can give your dog a praise or pat.
Also, when your pet does a good thing even when not being told to do so, you can still reward him with something. For example, if he sits quietly at the door you can reward him by opening the door and let him have a walk.
Clicker training is a positive reinforcement training method that is both fun and effective. It helps teach your pet a lot of things while improving and strengthening the bond between both of you.
It’s important to always carry small treats with you and give your dog one each time after clicking. Don’t force your dog to learn a lot of things at the same time, but make sure he, as well as you, see the whole training as a game.
When he makes a mistake during the training, don’t punish him but ignore the mistake. Have patience, and your dog will soon listen to you and do everything you ask him to.