Clicker Training: What’s It All About? (And How Can I Get Started?)
Whether you’re training a new puppy to sit calmly or a complex trick routine, you need a proven method for positive reinforcement training that will help you get the results you want.
Clicker training could be just what you need.
But what is clicker training?
Clicker training is an effective way to teach your dog desired behaviours. It uses a small box with a button that makes a distinctive ‘click’ sound when pressed. This is used to ‘mark’ desired behaviours before rewarding your dog with a treat or a play with a highly motivating, favourite tug toy.
The clicker lets you indicate to your dog that they are doing the right thing at precisely the right moment. It’s safe, humane and backed up by animal behaviour science as one of the best ways to teach your dog almost any behaviour.
Clicker training is based on the same foundation as any other positive training. Your dog should be happy and willing to play and you should follow their lead. If at any point they are disengaged or not enjoying the training, you should stop.
If you do opt to use a toy instead of treats, the secret is to play with it with them. Interactive engagement with you, with a tug toy they love, takes the reward to the next level. Simply throwing the toy and not doing anything else isn’t enough.
What’s clicker training NOT?
Clicker training isn’t a punishment or dominance-based method of training. Studies, and personal experience, show us that these negative training methods are harmful and ineffective.
There’s also a common misconception is that clicker training is ‘bribing’ your dog into doing what you want. But that’s not the case. Bribing isn’t an effective way to train. Bribing is when the food comes first. With clicker training, it comes after - only as a reward.
How do I get started?
- First, you need a clicker and some yummy treats (we’ve put both together in a handy bundle)
- If you and your dog are completely new to clicker training, do some introductory clicker conditioning. Have ten treats in one hand and your clicker in the other. Press the clicker with one hand and offer a treat with the other. Your dog doesn’t need to ‘do’ anything for the reward this time. Just click and treat.
- Next, wait for your dog to be distracted by something. Then click. If they look at you, reward with a treat. Looking at you shows they understand what the click means (that a reward is coming). At this point, we're testing to see if your dog has paired the clicker sound with the reward.
- When you are ready to move on to using your clicker to train more advanced behaviours, take it slow and make it easy to begin with. Slowly build on your progress, with plenty of rewards and encouragement along the way.
What if your dog doesn’t obey the cue?
Don’t get frustrated. Instead, ask yourself if your dog truly understands what they need to do, and if they are sufficiently motivated to do it. Then try again. If needed, go back to basics with step one (above). Be patient and offer lots of encouragement.
Are there any ways to mix it up?
Adding variety to clicker training can help keep your dog’s motivation and focus high. Here are a couple of things you can try:
- Fill a Tug-E-Nuff Clam with treats and throw this for their reward. This can be particularly useful if you’re training specific behaviours where you can’t be in reaching distance or your training to build confidence around certain noises or objects.
- Use a pocket-sized tug toy instead of food rewards. Our Pocket Bungee - Sheepskin Ball Tug is particularly good for this. It’s small enough to conceal for rewarding at the right moment and the combination of good size bite area made from real, ethically-sourced sheepskin and a tennis ball makes it hugely rewarding for your dog.