Dog Training – The Clicker – Not So New – But Is It For You?

A clicker is a small hand held box when triggered by your finger emits a “click” sound. The sound of the clicker is paired with food; you click, and give the dog in training a treat. With proper conditioning the dog will soon figure out that when he hears the sound of the clicker a treat is in his future. Now, why does one want to use a clicker for teaching behaviors? Because the clicker is quick, precise, faster than the snap of your fingers, and any verbal praise offered. It’s not affected by the sound or minor changes in the tone of your voice due to an emotionally tiring day, it’s the same sound heard each and every time. The clicker is also good in helping you with the timing process when teaching behaviors. Timing is very important when training a dog because you want to reward the correct behavior, ‘clicking’ is like taking a snap shot of what the dog just did before he heard the sound of the clicker, you’re ‘capturing’ a behavior. The clicker serves as a ‘marker’ that tells the dog he got it right. It also serves as a ‘bridge’ meaning you don’t have to have the treat immediately available, the clicker told him the treat is coming.

One may ask, ‘do I actually need a clicker to train my dog?” Of course not, the clicker has been around for a long time, and pet owners have been training their dogs’ without one quite successfully, it’s only recently they have made their way into the mainstream of the pet owning community. I use clickers in my classes, and have offered them to my students’ to give them a try, help improve their timing, and have fun teaching tricks, which I personally think is a wonderful way to get to know the clicker. When trying to teach a trick the clicker is accurate at precisely ‘slicing’ right in between behaviors, and getting what you want. Example: you are trying to teach your dog to shake on command, and your dog naturally throws his paw up, you can simply ‘click’ when his paw is raised, and follow with a treat. Remember, it’s like taking a snap shot with a camera, but you’re actually using a clicker. The dog already uses his paws naturally in a manner suggesting he could learn to shake on command so you use your clicker to capture it.

Once you’ve captured the desired behavior with your clicker, and the dog understands what he’s being ‘clicked’ for he will start offering that behavior knowing it brings pleasurable results – a click & treat. You now decide you want to name the behavior; typically ‘shake’ is used. Personally, when first naming a behavior the dog can perform I put the word at the ‘end’ of the performance to avoid repeating the word, and I watch to see the dog is committed to follow through. Once the dog understands what you’ve taught him, and he’s now fluent in that aspect of the training you can use the word ‘shake’ at the onset as you would any other command like ‘sit’… wait for the result, click & treat. You now have a dog that can offer a ‘shake’ on request, you have control over what can sometimes be an annoying habit of pawing for attention, and you can put your clicker away until the next time you teach something new. Success is just a ‘click’ away!

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