Clicker Training Basics

What is Clicker Training? If you’ve ever considered wanting to try out using a clicker when training your pup, you’ve come to the right post! Clicker training is science-based and allows for successful, clear communication to occur between the handler and animal in a way that both parties can understand. Clicker training uses positive reinforcement-a treat or toy-paired with an event marker (the click). For example, the dog sits. Click and treat. Clicker training should be a fun learning process for both the handler and the dog. It allows you to teach your animal new behaviors without using force or punishment.

Understanding clicker basics

The clicker is an event marker and a conditioned reinforcer. An event marker is something that pinpoints the exact moment in time when the animal offers the desired behavior. This can be a click or a visual stimulus (flashlight). The clicker allows you to communicate to your dog at the exact moment they perform the behavior. A conditioned reinforcer lets the animal know that the behavior they just did, earns them a reward. The clicker becomes the tool to mark actions or events that we like, it means the same thing every time-if the dog hears a click, a reward is coming.

Can I use my voice?

Yes! While your voice isn’t as good of a marker, because our dogs hear our voices all of the time, you can still use a “Yes!” as a marker that the dog has done something that you like. Some dogs are fearful of the clicker or some owners are too overwhelmed by the mechanics of using a clicker. The clicker is beneficial because it is a distinct sound to the dog and can speed up the learning process when dogs are learning new behaviors. But you do not have to use it if you prefer a verbal marker.

Do I always need to use the clicker?

Once the dog has learned the behavior and is able to offer it in all settings that you wish them to, you do not need to use the clicker anymore if you don’t want to. You can offer your dog praise or use a verbal marker once the behavior is learned.

The clicker in action!

Watch carefully and click for the behaviors that you like. To get your dog used to what the clicker means, click and treat a couple of times. Every time you click, you have to reward the dog-even if it’s an accident. You want to ensure that the clicker maintains its’ meaning so every click has to equal a treat. You also need to mark and reinforce within 2-3 seconds of the dog performing the behavior. Your treat hand should be kept still when you are not delivering the treat (keep your hand at your waist, side, behind your back, in a pocket, etc.). Check out the video to your right for more about the basics to clicker training, happy clicking!