Clicker Training

Feb 18, 2019   Tracey Aston   Training

One of the most popular positive reinforcement training methods is clicker training. Clicker training is often easier than verbal based commands because there is only one consistent signal for the pet to learn. Still, a verbal command like “YES” can be used in association with the clicker as well and can accelerate learning because the pet already knows the clicker sound as positive. Clicker training has been used for a very long time but truly came into popularity in the early 90s. Clicker training is great resource for dogs and cats, but has also been used in zoos and to train dolphins. 

Clicker training is easy and effective because it's a quick click and a tone to let the pet know what they are doing at that exact moment is want you're wanting. An immediate click is much quicker than actually saying the words and if the words are not said at the exact time of a desired behavior, the pet may become confused.  The clicker is a universal tone that is always consistent – the same can't be said about the human voice. The human voice can sound different to a dog based on the tone and pitch between people. This explains why some dogs will respond to their trainer's voice but not respond to other family members who are giving commands while trying to train their pet. After a positive behavior has been marked with a clicker and an action associated with a word, it's much easier for all family members to join in training. For the same reason, clicker training can be beneficial to those with disabilities such as speech impediments, having trouble enunciating words or slurred speech.

A clicker is a small device that gives a two-toned 'click' sound when pressed and released and because of its size, it a very portable training device. A clicker works by associating the clicking noise with a tasty treat or praise.  The clicking is a form of communication and positive feedback which by association with a treat or praise will reinforce positive behavior. 

Before you start training your pet with the clicker it must be “charged.” This is done by associating the clicker tone with a reward.  No commands are given, simply push the clicker, and immediately provide a treat and praise. The pet must first learn to associate the clicker tone with the reward, and then it can be used to mark good behavior because the pet will be expecting a reward, and that's the incentive to continue performing the action that was clicked. The biggest mistake people make is using the clicker to get dog's attention! The clicker is only be used to mark positive behavior you are wanting from your pet. Overuse, or using it to get your dog's attention, will confuse the dog and they won't associate the tone with the reward. 

To begin, direct a pet to a certain behavior or if in training wait for them to perform the behavior, such as sitting. As soon as the pet performs that action, press the clicker and immediately give a treat and praise. Timing is everything with clicker training! The click must be given in the moment that behavior happens so the pet will quickly begin to associate that behavior with the click and then the treat and praise. The pet will begin to realize that the click means a treat and the behavior led to a click. Be careful not to click too soon or after the behavior is complete – the click must come during the behavior!  

After all the positive behaviors you like are marked with the click, then you can begin associating words with the actions.  After a pet knows that sitting will get a click and treat, and will sit in an attempt to get the treat. Then you can say “good boy, sit!”  “Yes! Sit”

Keep training sessions short and age appropriate, and make sure your pet isn't becoming bored with the repetition and associates the training as a negative. The great thing about clicker training is the clicker can be very easily carried around and training can happen at any time, without having to wait for a session. If a pet parent is in the kitchen and the pet is lying in the other room calmly and not begging, a click can be given so the pet associates the calm behavior as a positive thing. During training, it's helpful to carry your very small, portable clicker around at all times to mark all possible positive behaviors. 

Never lose your temper, yell, leash-pull or physically manipulate a pet into a position while clicker training. If you find yourself becoming impatient, stop the training for the day and put the clicker away. The pet must always associate the clicker noise as something positive. 

If you are not making progress with a particular behavior, you are probably clicking too late. Accurate timing is important. Get someone else to watch you, and perhaps to click for you, a few times. Time, patience and perseverance can make training much easier for all involved, including the pet that is being given a consistent sound and understands what is expected of them.

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