An introduction to clicker training
Are you curious about clicker training? Have you ever wondered how it could help your dog? Or would you just like to know a little bit more about it? This month we will be exploring the basics of clicker training.
First and foremost, what is a clicker?
A clicker is a small hand held device that makes a ‘click’ sound when pressed. Clickers come in a variety of shapes
but are always small enough to fit in your hand and often have a wrist strap fo
r ease of use. Most clickers have two volume settings so that you can adjust the volume of the click to suit your dog’s needs. Some nervous dogs can be a little worried of the click noise to start with and so it is advisable to start training on the lowest volume setting and turn the volume up if necessary when the dog is comfortable with the click noise.
Why use a clicker to train my dog?
A clicker can be used to teach your dog almost any behaviour but they are particularly useful when teaching a complex task that needs to be broken down into smaller steps, or for teaching behaviours that don’t necessarily come naturally to most dogs (such as some tricks). A clicker is often used when shaping a behaviour, this means rewarding for approximations of the desired behaviour. Clicker training can also be very effective in helping reactive dogs to remain calm in the presence of something that would usually make them react by using a ‘click to calm’ type training programme.
The reason that clicker training is so effective is that the clicker is very PRECISE. It allows the trainer to mark an EXACT action, response or moment in time. A clicker is far more precise than using your voice to mark a behaviour.
A clicker is what is known as a secondary reinforcer. It alerts the dog to the fact that a food reward (primary reinforcer) is on the way. The clicker is used to mark a desired behaviour and lets the dog know that it is doing the right thing and has earned a reward.
Clicker training can be more effective than traditional training as it prevents the dog from becoming confused when a reward is delivered late by the trainer and so prevents accidental reinforcement of an unwanted or wrong behaviour. The clicker also sounds the same each time (as opposed to our voices which change depending on the mood we are in!) and this consistency makes learning much easier for the dog.
How do I get started?
The most important stage of clicker training is teaching your dog the meaning of the clicker. Your dog must learn that the sound of the clicker means that a food reward will follow. Start in a quiet room with no distractions so that it is easier for your dog to focus on you and the clicker. Have a handful of small very tasty treats in your hand. Press the clicker once and immediately give your dog one of the treats. Repeat this sequence many times until your dog starts to expect a treat after the click. You can test if your dog has learnt the association between the click and the food by waiting for them to be mildly distracted. If you click and your dog immediately looks back to you in anticipation of a reward then he has learnt the association between the click and the food reward and you are ready to start using the clicker to train.
I would suggest choosing an easy behaviour to teach your dog when you are first starting out with the clicker and then you can progress onto more complex behaviours once you are both comfortable with the concept.
If you would like further advice on the clicker training process or would like to discuss how it might be able to help your pet please get in touch and I will be happy to discuss this with you. We also sell appropriate clickers and treats at the practice to get you started.