Clicker training for dogs is one of the more systematic methods in dog training. It’s rooted in research done in behavioral psychology and the method is referred to by psychologists as operant conditioning. But you don’t need to know scientific terms in order to benefit from the method.
This method was first used with dolphins. With the dolphins, a whistle was utilised rather than a clicker. You can imagine how difficult it is to train a marine mammal compared to a dog. The whole method is based on positive reinforcement. It was very difficult to give a tasty treat to a dolphin at the precise time the dolphin did the behaviour you wanted. However, you could blow a whistle immediately. Then you could follow that with a fish shortly afterwards.
In order to positively reinforce a desired action, you should reward it at the precise time it occurs or very shortly afterwards or the animal will not associate the reinforcement with the action. This is where the whistle or clicker makes the reward process clearer.
The first step is to positively connect the sound of the clicker with getting a treat. This is easily done by repeatedly clicking and then immediately giving a treat dozens of times. Once this relation is made, the clicker sound itself becomes a reward in itself since it’s so closely related to treats in the dog’s perception. This process is called charging the clicker by clicker trainers.
Once the clicker is charged, you sound the clicker when the dog does a behavior you want and you always follow with a reward. In true clicker training, you wait for your dog to offer the behavior naturally and click and treat. In order to do this more complicated behaviors should be split up into smaller pieces. A tool which assists to do this is the target stick.
One of the first tasks in clicker training is to train your dog to touch his nose to the target stick. Once your dog accomplishes this, the target stick can be used to direct your dog to a particular place. This is so helpful when training your dog in other actions.
Getting your dog to touch the target stick is easy. If you position it in front of his face, he will probably touch it. Then you click and treat. Be sure to allow your dog to touch the stickof his own free will! Repeat this for a couple of minutes. Then take a rest.
It can take some time when a dog is introduced to clicker training, especially if he is an older dog. Patience is a necessity for effective clicker training. You may need to repeat the target stick session a couple of times before he gets the connection. But once he’s got it, the learning will stick.
Another tool which is very useful in clicker training is a mouse pad or something similar that you train your dog to stand on with a front foot. You can train this easily by just positioning it down on the ground near him and waiting for him to step on it. Immediately, click and reward. As before, repeat this until your dog gets it. As with the target stick, this tool can then be used to guide your dog to a spot in subsequent training.
The next step after training a behavior is to add a cue. A cue means that you use a word or command prior to the behavior – for example, “fetch” or “sit”. You do this by saying the cue word just as you think the dog is about to do the behavior. As always you click and reward the action. Then, by repeating this, the cue becomes associated with the treat, just like the clicker sound is. Please note that when you start training with the cue, you don’t reward the behavior alone any more – it has to be preceded by the cue. You don’t click or reward when the dog offers the behavior without you having given the cue.
I hope this has given you some idea of how the clicker is used as an effective tool in dog training. You will want to read much more about it if you are interested in trying clicker training. What I love about it is that it’s very step-by-step and all it requires is patience and consistency. Read more about clicker training, a review of the clearest clicker training manual, and also reviews of other dog training manuals.