Clicker Training Basics

What is clicker training?

Clicker training is a dog-friendly, effective method of dog training.

With clicker training you reward your dog for doing something right. And if he does something wrong you simply ignore it. You never scold or punish your dog in clicker training!

You can teach your dog any behavior or trick (that the dog is physically capable of performing) using clicker training. Clicker training is especially good for teaching tricks!

Clicker training isn't difficult; it's actually very simple. Even a 10-year-old child can learn to clicker train a dog!

Clicker training is used to train most of the animals you see performing on TV and in movies. The pig from the movie Babe was clicker trained. Dolphins and marine animals are also clicker trained (but the trainers use a whistle instead of a clicker).

What's a clicker?

A clicker is a small plastic device which has a metal tab on it and when this metal tab is pressed it makes a clicking sound.

Clickers come in many different shapes and styles. Here's what a few of the different clicker's available in pet shops look like:

Box-shaped clicker

I-Click clicker

Another common clicker design you'll see in pet shops.

How do you train your dog with a clicker?

To train your dog using a clicker you wait for your dog to do a desired behavior (or you lure him to do it) and the moment he does that behavior you click the clicker and give him a treat. For example: to teach your dog to sit you wait for him to sit and the moment he sits (yes, the precise instant his bum makes contact with the ground) you click the clicker, and then you give him a treat. You repeat this process a few times, clicking the exact moment the desired behavior happens following each click with a treat. Your dog figures out that it's the action he's doing when he hears the "click" (which in this case is sitting) that causes the treat to come. So he starts repeating the sitting action or whatever behavior you have been clicking to make the "magic" click sound happen again so he can get another treat. In effect, your dog learns that he can make the click sound happen by doing the right behavior and he will get a treat for doing so.

How the Clicker Works

Clicker training uses positive reinforcement. Put simply: positive reinforcement is the scientific principle which says that when a living creature performs a behavior and something good happens immediately after, then that behavior is likely to happen again.

We use this principle in dog training. The dog performs some behavior and he is given a treat. The dog learns that when he performs the behavior a treat appears. So he keeps doing the behavior to make more treats appear. And before long the dog is performing the behavior repeatedly to get one treat after another.

So then why do we need the clicker, what does it do? First, let's back up a little. You should know that in clicker training, you always without fail give the dog a treat after you "click" the clicker. You always do this. You never click the clicker unless you're going to give the dog a treat immediately after doing so.

Because a treat always follows the "click" noise, what happens is the dog associates the click with the treat. In the dog's mind the click is the same thing as the treat. Yes, the dog sees no difference between the click and the treat; they're one and the same thing to him (click equals treat). This happens, because like I said above, a treat ALWAYS follows the click. So your dog sees no difference between the two, a click actually is a treat.

And this is the reason why we use the clicker. The clicker allows you to tell the dog precisely which behavior will cause a treat to appear. For example, if you're teaching your dog how to sit you wait until the moment your dog's bum touches the carpet and the instant it does you click (and then give him a treat). Since, in your dog's head the click and the treat are the same thing he thinks he's getting a treat every time his bum touches the ground... because that's when he hears the click (and that, to him, equals a treat). So by using the clicker you are very clearly communicating to him which precise behavior earns the treat the instant he does that behavior.

What's a cue?

In clicker training, the command you give your dog to tell him to perform a behavior, for example: "sit," isn't called the command. Instead, in clicker training, it's called the cue.

I'll be using the word cue in the step-by-step instructions that follow. So just remember that in clicker training a command isn't called a command, it's called a cue. And a cue is something you say to prompt your dog to perform a behavior.

Will i have to use the clicker forever?

No, you only have to use the clicker while you're actually teaching your dog a new trick or behavior. Once he's learned the behavior and performs it reliably whenever you give the cue (whenever you give the command), you can stop using the clicker altogether.

You should, however, continue to reward him with treats and praise any time he correctly performs the behavior after you've given the cue.

Okay, enough theory, lets learn how to clicker train!

Next: What You'll Need To Begin Clicker Training