Posted by: Linda Trunell | September 2, 2013

Getting Started with a Clicker

Why Use a Clicker?

I love using a clicker when teaching a dog new behaviors because it is consistent.  The click marks the behavior you want and tells the dog what he is being rewarded for.  You can use a vocal marker like “YES” but the click is a distinct sound and means only one thing.

The reward is the positive reinforcement which motivates the dog to repeat the behavior.  It is important to practice your clicker and reward delivery skills.  The more accurate you are with the click, the clearer the message to the dog.

Food is a primary reinforcer and most dogs want food more than praise or affection, so I use tasty treats as a reward.  I like the moist dog food rolls because they smell good and can be cut into small pieces that the dog can swallow quickly.  If you use dog biscuits the dog may get distracted looking for crumbs on the floor.  Sometimes I use small pieces of real chicken or cheese but Max’s favorite is bits of warm hot dog.

Some dogs may work for kibble in the kitchen but not when they are in a training class.  If what you are asking the dog to do is more difficult, the reward should be more valuable.

Most dogs are very food-motivated but some would rather chase a tennis ball or play tug than have a treat.   Find out what your dog wants most because it is only a reward if your dog finds it rewarding.

Found the ball

Charging the Clicker

You must first teach the dog that click means “Yes, that’s what I want and a reward is coming”.  This is called charging or loading the clicker. I like to start by saying the dog’s name and then clicking when he makes eye contact.  It usually only takes a few repetitions for the dog to learn that the eye contact is earning the reward.  I like rewarding eye contact because it teaches the dog to focus on me and also builds a good association with the sound of their name – two things which will help to teach a reliable come when called.

I suggest keeping the clicker and the treats behind your back so the dog looks at your face instead of your hands.  A treat bag that you can hook on the back of your waistband or belt makes it easier to keep the clicker in one hand and have your other hand free to give hand signals.

What is Luring?

The fastest way to teach some behaviors is to lure into the position with a treat and then click and reward.  You can  lure a sit by holding a treat in your fist and placing it palm up under the dog’s nose, and then slowly raising your hand up and over his head.  You click to mark when he is sitting and then give a treat from your other hand (not the lure hand) as the reward.

After luring three times, fade the lure by just giving the hand signal as though you still had a treat in your hand.  It is important to fade the food lure early so the dog will respond without seeing food.  Remember the food is a reward – not a bribe.

You do not say “sit” until the dog is responding to the hand signal easily every time. Then you say “sit” just before you give the hand signal.  By saying “sit” first and then giving the hand signal you are showing that the word “sit” means the same thing.  If you say “sit” while giving the hand signal the dog will block the word out.

Bogie - Puppy Class

It’s okay if you click for a sit and the dog pops up right after you click.  As long as you are only clicking when he is sitting he’ll soon figure it out and  you can delay the click a little to keep him sitting longer.  You can also start using a release word after you deliver the treat by saying the word (such as free, done, or okay) and then taking a step back to show the dog what it means.

When the dog has learned the word “sit” they will respond without the hand signal.  If you say “sit” and the dog doesn’t respond, use the hand signal again instead of repeating “sit”.  If at any point the dog is not responding, go back to the previous step.

In my next post I’ll explain capturing and shaping which are other ways to teach behaviors with the clicker.  Have fun with your training and your dog will too!

Here’s to being our dog’s best friend,

Linda


Responses

  1. Not sure if I have the patience to teach this but I get your drift. This would be fun inside winter time play. Wonder if they could hear the clicker to return home when chasing a jack rabbit way beyond the bounds of our property?

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    • Clicker training sessions should be kept short (5 mins.) to keep the dog interested and don’t require a lot of patience on our part. For teaching a good recall, the clicker is not to get their attention but to mark a behavior, so you would click and treat when they return.
      You could train your dogs to come from a distance with a dog whistle and reward with a lot of really good stuff if they return home when chasing a jack rabbit! Here’s a link to a video showing how to train a recall with a whistle http://pettips.co/dog-distracted-recall/#gsc.tab=0 Have fun!

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  2. I love using a clicker when training new behaviors. Whenever my dogs see me grab the clicker, their ears perk up, they become focused on my next move and run to me to see what is happening…except Rufus. He stays on the couch until the last possible second. I’ll have to start using clicker training to get his lazy bum off the sofa!

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    • Max loves to see the clicker come out, too. Maybe Rufus needs some warm hot dog bits to get his bum in gear – haha

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  3. Thanks for this great blog post on clicker training and your clear, helpful replies to comments.

    From what I have read, clicker training has brought success to cat, pet rabbit and horse training, too. I’m using it now to train our house rabbit, Tuxedo.

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    • Thank you for kind words. 🙂 I think it is great that you are training Tuxedo with a clicker. I’ve read that zoo animals have been trained with a clicker to cooperate with vets and caretakers – pretty amazing! Some clicker training courses require training chickens as practice.

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  4. Great post! I love clicker training as well. I find it works really well for trick training and “shaping” those more complicated tricks. I have found that in the last little while Malika seems to have become afraid of the noise the clicker makes. This is so strange because we’ve worked with it for months with no problem. I read that this can sometimes happen and there are quieter clickers that you can buy so I might try that…

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    • Maybe something scared Malika and she is associating it with the sound of the clicker? It could be something you were not even aware of that had nothing to do with the training. I have worked with some dogs who were afraid of the click in the beginning, so I muffled it in my pocket. Some clickers are quieter than others – you can also try clicking a pen or even making a click sound yourself or use a verbal marker. Shaping is so much easier with some kind of marker. Please let me know how it goes if you have time. 😉

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      • Yeah, that is definitely a possibility! Thanks for the pen idea, I will definitely give that a try! 🙂

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  5. […] Getting Started with a Clicker My Postive Dog Training Blog […]

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    • Thank you for link! 😉

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  6. A very nice and informative article in regards to dog training!!!

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