HomeDog TrainingClicker TrainingDog Clicker Training

Dog clicker training... is so much fun for both dogs and people that the training part just slips in!
Dog clicker training... gets the dog to figure out what you want, making it an enjoyable game.

This wonderful, cruelty-free method is revolutionizing dog training!

Are you using it yet? It’s quite easy to learn at a basic level, and once you and your dog get the habit, it can be used for many enjoyable tricks as well as for all the essentials of training.

Here’s how you might do a short dog clicker training session (and short sessions work best for the dogs’ learning):

You have a clicker in your hand, and some small treats in a pocket or nearby. You have chosen what you are going to train for this session… let’s say it’s “sit.”

Your dog wanders over to see why something smells so good. He happens to lift his head up, and you click the clicker and give him a treat.

Now you’ve got his attention. Let’s say he happens to sit. You immediately click and give him a large “jackpot” treat because he’s done exactly what you want — even though he didn’t know you wanted it.

After some more rewards when he happens to do something that is either the behavior you want or part of it, he gets the idea that yummy treats come when he does certain things. He may offer you a variety of behaviors. Just reward the ones that you want.

If he doesn’t sit because he is too excited by the treats, you could hold a treat over his head, so far back that he would sit (or even make a motion toward sitting) and then you could click that.

Once he definitely has the idea that sitting brings a treat (which could take more than one session), you can begin to use the word “sit” — timing it so you say it just before you think he is about to sit. He still does the sitting because in his mind, sitting and treats are connected, but after he has heard the word ‘sit” in that context enough times, he’ll get the idea.

This is exactly how I trained my Basenji to sit in the first week we had her as a puppy. It was the first time I had trained a dog to sit without my endlessly shoving on its rear — and it got me hooked on dog clicker training!

Clicker training is a relatively new method for working with dogs. Begun by dolphin trainer Karen Pryor, it has rapidly spread in popularity as its effectiveness has been proven — with young puppies, with “problem dogs,” with countless dogs in a great variety of situations. It’s based solidly on scientific principles of how animals learn.

What’s a clicker? Why don’t you just use your voice?

A clicker is a small device that you can carry easily, attach to a jacket, or keep in a pocket. When you press on it, it makes a distinctive clicking sound. They are sold at pet supply places, quite inexpensively and usually in groups, as it’s handy to have several around.

If you don’t have one handy, you can use a baby food jar lid (which makes a quieter sound), or any toy clicker you might have around if you have children. But I find these the best by far.

You can click a clicker much faster than you can say “Good!” or any other praise word. I have experimented with making a clicking noise with my mouth, and have found that it’s much slower than clicking a clicker. Since dogs can do a lot of different things in a short time period, the faster your click, the more likely you are to have indicated the exact behavior you wanted to reward.

I have often clicked a little too late to catch the behavior I wanted to indicate, though — and I’ve learned that clicker training is a forgiving method. My goofs never seem to confuse the dog for long.

Clicker trainers who work with Karen Pryor have come out with an improved clicker. It’s smaller, quieter, easier to click, and easier for people with disabilities to use than the original ones that were rectangular.  I like it in the pockets of my jeans as well as in my hands.

Click here (sorry, couldn’t resist!) for i-clickers at Amazon.

What treats do you use in dog clicker training?

Mostly, people use food treats. These can vary in deliciousness, depending on the situation. I often use dry cat food for my dogs, because they will work for anything, especially if I toss it in the air. Small pieces of raw carrot work with our dogs too. For pickier dogs or for special treats  you can use bits of hot dog or commercial dog treats cut up small.

I like to keep a bag of prepared of hot dog bits in my freezer. I get the kind that don’t have chemical preservatives, and I can get them at most regular chain grocery stores. I cut each hot dog into about 20 slices, and then I cut each slice into fourths. With 80 treats per hot dog, this works out to very little money. They are a little greasy, but you can boil them for a few minutes and rinse them, and they will be easier to handle while still plenty yummy to the dogs. I never bother with the boiling process myself, but sometimes I wipe these treats off with some paper towel.

If you do a lot of clicker training with your dog, do remember to feed him less at mealtimes!

If your dog isn’t one who will work for food, then other rewards can be used… playing with a toy, or anything that your dog likes.

I hope I have conveyed some of the excitement that dog clicker training can bring to your dog’s life. Instead of thinking of it as a training method, you can think of it as a new way of communicating between you and your dogs. For example, when a dog is uncertain in a new situation, such as in a veterinarian’s office, a little clicker training on the spot can reduce his anxiety and show him what you want.

Here’s a 6-minute audio file I made to explain clicker training:


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