Dog Clicker Training Tricks
Teach Your Dog & Make Him A Star Performer
Dog Clicker Training Introduction
It is definitely a delight to watch a pet perform some wonderful tricks. But, the process of training an animal to obey commands can seem tiresome and long, and might even deter you from training your own pet dog. Since, there is no common language between humans and animals it can be at times frustrating to communicate to an animal what exactly you want him/her to do. Watching movies like Babe or Beethoven make you wonder on the training process that helps animals perform so well. Especially if you have been having a hard time to train Fido to just sit on command! Well, you need no longer despair because a relatively new training technique called Clicker Training is helping beginners as well as experts to train animals in no time.
In the following sections we will guide you on the process of this very effective training technique and what are the various things that you can achieve with it.
Before we start with some basics like what exactly is a clicker and how to use it in the training process, here is quick overview of various types of training techniques and where exactly clicker training fits.
Essentially, there are two types of training methods, punishment based and reward based. They are sometimes also referred as negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement techniques. In case of punishment based method, an animal is punished verbally or physically if he does not perform correctly in a training exercise. The fear of punishment makes him perform well. Obviously, this is not a very humane approach to treat animals and hence people prefer the more ethical, reward based method, to teach their pets.
In case of reward based method an animal is motivated to perform well through treats, toys and verbal praise. Whenever the animal does the correct thing his action is marked by a verbal praise like “Good boy” or “Yes”. He is also rewarded for performing correctly.
Clicker training is a type of reward based method that also uses treats and toys to motivate animals. But, instead of using verbal communication to mark correct animal actions, it relies on a device called clicker.
So, now let us see what a clicker is and how to use it to mark actions successfully.
What is a clicker?
Clicker is a small mechanical device with a button on it. When you press the button it makes a “click” sound. Clickers come in various sizes and shapes. They are made of plastic as well as metal. People generally prefer a plastic one because it is light in weight and there is no fear of rusting. While selecting a clicker, make sure you can hold it comfortably and press the button without making much effort. It should ideally fit in the palm of your hand and be very easy to operate.
Clickers are quite inexpensive and you can buy them easily from any pet supplies store. They are also available online on Amazon and eBay. You can buy a few and keep them at places which are easily and quickly accessible like the training room, kitchen or even in the car.
What is a clicker training?
So, how does this small clicking device help you to make your pet learn new tricks or obey commands? Clicker helps to mark the exact moment when your dog does the right thing. For example, if you are training your pet to sit on command, then clicker will help you mark the exact moment when your pet’s rump touches the floor. During the training, whenever your pet does the correct thing, you make a click sound with the clicker. After the click sound you reward the dog. This not only helps you to mark the exact moment but it also helps your pet to know what exactly he is being rewarded for. This makes him repeat the desired behavior.
Generally, when we use verbal communication like saying “Good” we have to be extra careful about our timing. We need to make sure that our verbal praise comes out at the right moment. We do not want the dog to think that the reward is for licking his mouth or sniffing the floor. With a clicker this problem is easily overcome. A click is much more precise than verbal communication.
Hence, Clicker training is one of the positive reinforcement training techniques that uses the clicker device instead of relying on verbal communication like saying “Good boy” or “Yes”.
Because of its efficiency, clicker training has become quite popular in the last couple of decades. Trainers of various animals are using it effectively to train their animals much faster. They are using it to train horses, pigs, donkeys, cats and so on. Marine animals are also being trained using the same clicker technique. Though, in their case instead of using a clicker, trainers prefer the use of a whistle. A whistle is more audible than a clicker and hence more effective when training large animals or animals who are a little far from the trainer.
In short, here are some of the reasons why clicker training is becoming more popular than other training methods:
- Clicker helps to mark the precise moment when the animal does the right thing.
- Training with clicker is quicker.
- Clicker training uses treats or toys as rewards and hence it is a very humane approach towards training.
- The clicker training can be effectively used for large animals or animals that are at a little distance from the trainer like marine animals.
- The click sound is consistent unlike human voice which can change due to weather, mood or illness.
Clicker training and Dog Psychology
Clicker training uses conditioning concept introduced by Russian physiologist, Pavlov. Pavlov found out through experiments that dogs could be made to salivate at the sound of the bell. Since, the dogs were given food just after the sound of the bell; they started associating food with the bell sound.
Clicker training uses the same concept. Through training the animals become aware that treats will follow the click sound. They associate the click with the reward. Now, if you try to train them using the clicker they will learn quickly. They will be willing to repeat behavior that earned them a click and subsequently a treat.
How clicker training is different from other training techniques?
Clicker training is different from punishment based training as well as from other types of reward based training.
Differences between clicker training and traditional punishment based training are:
- Clicker training relies heavily on treats. After the click the trainer gives the animal a treat. This makes the animal relate the click with a treat reward.
- There is no punishment, harsh words or shouting involved while training with the clicker. Since all the communication is done by the clicker, the trainer is not required to speak much.
Differences between clicker training and other reward based training are:
- Other reward based training relies on the trainer to verbally mark the exact moment when the animal did the correct thing. With the clicker training, you mark the moment with the click of the clicker.
- Because the click will be the same always, the animal’s performance will remain the same even if the trainer changes midway.
Because of the consistency and exactness of the clicker training, the time taken to train an animal also reduces considerably. It becomes much easier to train an animal new trick if he has been trained with a clicker previously. Since the animal already knows that a click precedes rewards, he is willing to perform correctly whenever he hears a click.
Steps of clicker training
The steps of clicker training are actually quite simple. There are just 3 steps that you will need to follow while training your dog with a clicker.
- Ask/teach/command your dog to perform an action or a trick. Each command or trick will have its own set of steps that will guide your dog towards the correct action.
For example, for a “down” command you will have to first make your dog sit. Next, you will have to show him a treat and move it lower and towards you. This will make the dog lower his head and stretch towards you resulting in a down position.
For a “shake paw” command, you will have to keep the treat at the chin level of your dog. Next, move the treat slowly upwards. As your dog stretches his nose and head towards the treat, he will move his paw up too.
- As soon as your dog shows the correct action/behavior, mark the moment with a click.
In case of “down” command, the expected action will be your dog lowering his body down on the floor. In case of “shake paw” command, the expected action will be lifting the paw from the ground.
- After the click reward your dog.
Each trick or command will require certain amount of practice before it becomes perfect. But, essentially the steps will remain the same; command->click->reward.
Before you start
Before you start training your pet dog with a clicker, you will need to practice a little with the device. Make sure that you are an expert at clicking at the right time. Remember, you have to give a treat to the animal even if you clicked by mistake. Hence, it is important that you learn to click exactly at the right moment.
Practice with the clicker
You can practice clicking in the following ways:
You can practice with your friends or family members. Ask them to clap or whistle so that you can click at the exact time they make a clapping or whistling sound. Some even practice by bouncing a ball. Whenever the ball touches the ground, you click.
If you are practicing by yourself then you can do that through some song or TV show. You can decide when to click before the song or show. For example, you can decide to click whenever a specific word comes in the song or when a particular actor makes his/her entry in the scene.
All this practice will make you watchful and train you to click at the exact right moment.
Make sure to click only once. There should not be too many clicks as they will confuse the dog. He will start expecting you to click many times always.
Once you have become an expert at clicking correctly, you will have to prepare a treat or reward bag. Decide on what your dog likes best. Does he like treats or toys? Generally, animals are more motivated with treats.
Prepare a treat bag
Here are some tips on making a goodies bag for your dog’s training exercise:
- The treat should be something tasty and smelly like chicken, liver or cheese.
- The size of the treats should be very small. The reasons for this are two.
- Firstly, your pet will be able to chew a small treat easily and he will not take much time in eating it. Hence, his concentration will not divert from the training exercise at hand.
- Secondly, if you keep large size treats then your pet might become full quickly and will not remain motivated enough for the rest of the training. Small sizes keep his interest level up and he remains motivated throughout the training exercise.
Some animals prefer other types of reward like physical display of affection (cuddling or a pat). There are others who might prefer free play or a walk in the park as a reward or even a drink of water. Just make sure what your dog prefers and use that as a reward at the time of training.
The next step is to make your dog aware that a click precedes rewards. Trainers call this activity “loading the clicker”.
Introduce the clicker to the dog
There are two ways in which you can achieve this, either before you start training or during the training session itself. If you think that too many new things at once might overwhelm your pet then it is a better idea to introduce the clicker first. Here is how you can do so.
- Select a quiet room to start the training. Keep outside noises to a minimum so that your dog can hear the click properly.
- Take the goodies bag and the clicker in one hand and sit near your pet. Get his attention and let him have a look at the clicker and the goodies bag. Once you have his attention make a click sound and give a treat to your pet.
- In case your pet shows some fear of the clicking sound then you can try muffling the sound by wrapping it up in a napkin. You can also put some layers of tape on the clicker. Once your pet is comfortable with the sound you can remove the napkin/tape and continue training.
- Every time you make a click sound give a treat to your pet. Let him finish the treat before you make the next click sound. Remember to give a treat as soon as you make the click sound.
- After doing this for a few times, your dog will start associating the click with the food. You can practice by lengthening the time interval between each click. The idea is to let your dog understand that every time there is a click sound he will get some treat.
- Keep on changing rooms so that your dog becomes adept at hearing the click sound even when there is some noise and other distractions.
Once you and your pet are comfortable with the clicker, you can start training your pet commands and tricks using the clicker.
Clicker training steps for the “sit” command
Clicker training steps are generally similar for all kinds of command and trick training. Once your dog has shown the desired behavior, you click and give a treat to your dog.
Here are the steps that you can follow while training your pet to sit on command using clicker training.
- Keep your goodies bag and clicker ready. Go to your dog and get his attention.
- Keep a treat in your hand and bring it close to your dog’s nose. Let him smell it.
- Move your hand upwards so that your dog follows the treat with his nose.
- Move your hand a little behind your dog’s nose. Since he is following the treat with his nose, your action will make his back slope downwards.
- The moment his butt touches the ground, say sit and then press your clicker. After the click sound, give your dog the treat.
- Repeat this exercise several times so that your pet can relate his action with the word “sit”.
The biggest advantage of using a clicker is that you can give commands to your pet even when you are at a distance. Because you are a little away from him you will not be able to dispense a treat as soon as he does the right thing. But, when you make the click sound with the clicker your pet will know that some treat is on its way. He will not feel anxiety during the time gap between his action and the reward. He will wait patiently for his reward after hearing the click sound.
Other types of training with the clicker
Clicker training not only helps to train animals obey commands, but it is also very useful in teaching animals perform tricks like roll over, shake paw and so on. You can also use it effectively to correct behavioral problems. Here is an example that illustrates the use of clicker training to dissuade a dog from barking excessively at everyone and everything.
Preventing excessive barking with the clicker
The first thing to remember when dissuading your dog from barking too much is to not shout at him. By shouting you will only add to the mayhem and your dog will think that you are encouraging him to bark more. Instead, follow the given below steps:
- Keep the clicker, treats bag and a squeaky toy with you.
- When your dog is sitting quietly, click and give him a treat.
- When he starts barking, press the toy to make a squeaky noise. If the noise distracts your dog and he stops barking even for a couple of seconds, then click and give him a treat and the toy.
- You may have to practice this many times before your dog understands that the reward is for keeping quiet.
The key to correcting behavioral problems is to first understand the underlying cause behind them. A pet dog might be just bored, stressed or scared. It is important to find the root cause and then find solutions accordingly.
If your dog is bored then you can provide him with some interesting toys.
If your dog has too much nervous energy, then you can provide him with some exercise by playing with him or taking him for a walk. When he returns home he will prefer a nap more than tearing things apart.
Benefits of clicker training
Clicker acts a bridge between the desired behavior and the reward. It lets the animal know that they have performed correctly and that they will soon be rewarded. Some other benefits of using clicker for training purpose are:
- When training puppies with treats, it becomes difficult to get the puppies to focus on the training instead of the food. The food might distract the puppies from the training lesson. The clicker helps to bring the focus back on the training. Puppies know that when they hear the click sound a treat will follow. Hence, they concentrate better and wait patiently for the treat.
- Clicker helps to train animals from a distance too. The trainer is able to monitor the body language of the animal much better and time his click precisely.
- Since the training is more dependent upon the click sound it does not matter who is pressing the button on the clicker. People conducting the training session can change without affecting the training in any way. With practice the clicker helps to get attention of the animal and makes him focus on the training.
- Clicker prevents a trainer from rewarding the animal for a wrong lesson. Because the timing of the click is precise there is no confusion in the mind of the animal about what the reward is for.
Myths related to clicker training
There are some assumptions regarding clicker training that prevents people from using it correctly. Here are some of the common myths along with the facts.
- Clicker trained dogs are fat
It is true that the clicker training is dependent upon treats as rewards, but only during the initial stage of training. As the training progresses and the commands are perfected, the treats are reduced. A time comes when the dog performs just on commands without the lure of treats. The whole process takes time and patience.
- Clicker training does not work on prey animals
Because food is the main reward used in clicker training, people think it works well with only predator species. This is totally false. Clicker training has been successfully used on horses and donkeys. Using rewards like apples, carrots or biscuits, horses have been trained to perform tricks. Clicker training has also been used to correct behavioral problems in equines.
- Clicker training is magical
Though, clicker training is simple and can be used by beginners and experts alike, the results are dependent upon the skills and understanding of the trainer. A clicker alone will not teach animals tricks. A clicker is only a means of communication between the animal and his trainer. On its own, a clicker is just a plastic box. But, in the hands of a good trainer it can help the animal perform some wonderful tricks.
Clicker training opens up a whole new range of activities that owners can perform with their pet animals. Because of its relative ease of use and simplicity, children can also use it to train their pets. Since it uses treats and toys as reward it is also one of the most ethical and humane approach to train animals of all species. But like in any training method, the principles of practice and patience should be borne in mind while using this training technique.
Hopefully, our guide was useful to you and will help you train your pets successfully. If you have any queries regarding this method, do let us know and we will love to find answers for you.