What do you do if you have clicker trained your dog but then you are out together somewhere and have forgotten your clicker? I’ve heard this question from people who haven’t started clicker training, as they are thinking through whether they want to give it a try. A further part of their concern is whether they are committing themselves to carrying clickers around in their pockets for the rest of their lives.
In the past, I have answered the first question by saying that you can use a tongue click or some short and distinctive word as a clicker substitute. As for clickers in pockets forever… well, at the times when I have been actively clicker training a new puppy, I have had clickers in my pockets most of the day, but only for a few months.
I thought I’d see what Morten Egtvedt & Cecilie Koeste said in their very useful ebook, Clickertraining: the 4 Secrets of Becoming a Supertrainer. (The link takes you to their website.) After all, they have had way more experience than I have at clicker training dogs. And sure enough, they took my thoughts further.
They suggest that when you train a dog to understand that the sound of a clicker means something good is coming – a process that is called “charging” the clicker – you should also charge a word in the same manner. They suggest “yes!” but certainly you could use any word that is easy to say quickly, one-syllable, and not similar to the dog’s name or the name of anyone in the family.
They say that training “yes!” as well as a click is important to do because you “always carry your voice around with you.” So that gets away from being doomed to have clickers in your pockets forever.
Once you choose the word and start training it, you will always need to treat it as you would treat an actual clicker sound. That is, you can’t just use it with the dog when it does something you want to praise but you don’t want to go find a treat at that moment. For example, if you are sitting watching a TV drama and your dog does something you like, just say “What a good dog!” or something like that. Only use the power word if you are going to reward right then.
When I looked up what Morten and Cecilie had to say about this, I found myself in a section of the ebook where they make the comments I have drawn on here. And while I was there, I made a screenshot of a very handy training chart that was right there too. By this point in the ebook, they had already written a whole chapter on step 1.1, finding rewards the dog likes, and they had explained the other steps more fully. I’m showing it here because I think charts like these are a really great way to keep yourself on track as you train, and also because it shows that they are giving equal importance to your training the “yes!” as well as the click. By the way, this chart is the first of 30 such charts in the ebook.
If you’d like to know more about Clickertraining: the 4 Secrets of Becoming a Supertrainer, just click! (Sorry, saying “yes!” won’t take you to their website.)