Has your dog ever done something really adorable or wonderful that you wish you could teach her to do on cue? Do you find it a challenge trying to teach commands like “stay” or fun behaviors like tricks? Do you wish you could more clearly show your dog exactly what you’d like him to do? Clicker training can be very helpful in addressing these issues and others, too! After your dog performs a behavior that you like, you only have one to two seconds to let them know they did a good job. After that window, they won’t understand which behavior you’re trying to reward. This can cause confusion for your dog and frustration for you.
Clicker training, very simply, is teaching a dog that the sound of a click means “a treat is
coming!” Once your dog understands this concept, you have a powerful new tool that allows you to mark the exact moment your dog does a behavior you want them to repeat. Using a clicker can help in teaching extended behaviors like stay, complicated behaviors like tricks and can even be a big help in teaching the basics like housebreaking and appropriate chewing. A dog who is clicker charged (understands that a click means a treat is coming) will learn faster and have more fun during training, and you’ll have more fun, too! Here’s how to clicker charge your dog in just a few simple steps.
7 Steps to master clicker training for your dog
Step 1: Choose a clicker or marker word/sound. Find a clicker that you like, either at a local pet store or an online vendor. Any clicker will do, so choose one you think will feel comfortable in your hand and will be easy to use. Alternately, if you don’t like the idea of holding a clicker, or if you have a dog who dislikes the sound of a clicker, you can choose a word or sound, instead. Common marker words are “yes”, “good”, “nice” etc. You can use any word that you don’t say to your dog in any other context. So if you like to tell your dog “good dog!” often, choose a different word as a marker. As a third option, you can pick a marker sound such as clicking your tongue or pursing your lips together in a “kissy” sound. Any word or sound will do so long as it’s easy for you to repeat many times in a row and you feel comfortable making the sound in public. Whether you choose a clicker, marker word or marker sound, make sure everyone in the household agrees to the same one, so that you can be consistent when you train.
Step 2: Learn what treats your dog loves. There are a lot of treat options out there, and before you clicker charge your dog, you want to learn what kind of foods really get your pup excited and enthusiastic. Some chow hounds are happy to work for their kibble or bits of dry biscuit, but most dogs would rather have more exciting fare. Soft treats, bits of cooked chicken, lean hamburger meat or cheese sticks can be big winners with a lot of dogs. Experiment (your dog will love you for it) and find out what kind of food rewards your dog likes best. Try and find a couple types of treat that your dog will happily eat, even if out in public or highly distracted. If your dog will tune out everything else to try and figure out how to earn his next bite, you’ve found a good treat for training and clicker charging.
Step 3: Sit down with your dog, your clicker and 15-30 high value treats. Take one of the treat types you discovered in Step 2, and break them up into teeny, tiny bites. For clicker charging, you only want to offer small morsels, because you’ll be giving a lot of treats in rapid succession. If your dog has to chew more than 1-2 times before swallowing, your treats are too big.
Step 4: Click your clicker one time, or say your marker word or make your marker sound one time. Don’t worry if your dog doesn’t take any notice.
Step 5: Toss your dog a treat. Don’t worry about what your dog is or isn’t doing. After you click your clicker, toss a treat down in front of your dog.
Step 6: Repeat steps 4-5 about 10 times.
Step 7: Test your dog. Now that you’ve done the sequence of click-treat at least ten times, click your clicker once more and watch your dog. What does she do? Does she ignore the sound? Does she suddenly look at you or begin to sniff the floor, searching for a treat? If your dog gives you an indication that she’s anticipating a treat, congratulations! You have clicker charged your dog! If your dog doesn’t seem to notice, that’s okay. Repeat steps 4-5 another ten times and try again. If your dog still isn’t charged, no problem. Put the clicker away and have another clicker charging session later or tomorrow. Some dogs get the idea very quickly. Others need a few rounds to figure it all out. Whether she responds or not, after you click to test your dog, be sure to reward with a treat.
The most important thing to remember about using a clicker is “one click, one treat”. A clicker tells your dog a treat is coming. That’s an agreement you make with your pup, and one that you have to uphold if you want your clicker to continue to remain a useful tool. Every time you click your clicker, you must treat your dog. Even if you clicked by accident, even if you clicked the wrong thing, even if your friend came over and clicked your clicker because he didn’t know what it was. If you click, you must treat. As training progresses and your dog learns behaviors really well, you may find you need to click less, but a click, always and forever, means “a treat is coming”. If you click and don’t treat, you change that meaning, and the click will lose value to your dog. If you click your clicker, you must treat your dog.
Once you’ve clicker charged your dog, you’re ready to begin training! Now you can use the clicker to teach behaviors like sit, shake, lie down, target or any other behavior you can dream up! Mark the moment your dog does the behavior you want, reward him for it, and he will learn to repeat it for you.