Mark Vette – Internationally renowned Animal Behaviourist, Educator, Author and TV personality

Clicker training 101: A beginner’s guide

A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO CLICKER TRAINING

Train your dog up to 10x faster!

I’m a huge believer in clicker training. I’ve been working with dogs for over 40 years, and in my experience using a clicker can help you teach your dog a behaviour up to 10x faster than with food rewards alone. Most professional trainers use clickers or another marker for dog training.

The reason for this is that it helps you create a Shared Language with your dog. Your dog doesn’t automatically know what you want, so you have to find a way to tell her – a clicker helps you do that!  Here I’ll show you how this works and how to get started with clicker training.

What is a clicker?

A clicker is a small hand-held tool that has a button on it which makes a distinctive click sound. You can purchase them from our website here. 

Why do we use it?

  • It’s the fastest way to teach your dog what you want her to do
  • It switches your dog into a Learning State, so she is more able to learn new behaviours. This speeds up learning and helps even fearful, distracted dogs to focus and learn.
  • Once your dog understands how the clicker works (and that it’s always followed up by a yummy treat), she will learn faster each time you use it to train a new behaviour
  • Training with a clicker builds affection and reinforces the bond between you and your dog
  • It becomes a kind of game where your dog is trying to work out how to make you click. It’s fun!
  • You later fade the clicker, so it’s only a tool to teach the behaviour we want, you don’t have to use it forever

How is it used?

We use the click sound from the clicker to mark the exact behaviour we want from our dog. When your dog does the behaviour you’re trying to train, you immediately click then follow up with a food reward. Your dog then learns to associate the behaviour she was doing at the exact moment you clicked with the reward, so she quickly understands that this is what you were looking for.

A clicker is like a camera: you click immediately when you see the behaviour you want. Imagine you’re trying to take a photo to show the exact moment your dog demonstrates the right behaviour.

The click is a ‘promise’ to your dog that he will get a treat, so when you click the clicker, you must ALWAYS reward your dog with a small piece of high-value food.

A clicker is also a switch conditioner that switches your dog into a Learning State, which is essential for teaching your dog ANYTHING and especially for working with fearful or hypersensitive dogs. 

Why is it better than using just treats or praise alone?

A clicker has none of the confusing emotional messages that your voice may contain. Its sound is always consistent. Plus, it is precise at marking the behaviour as the click is instant (voice and food rewards are slower).  For example, if teaching your dog to sit, when you go to give your dog the treat he might stand back up again, so now you are rewarding him for standing up not sitting down!

 

Do I have to use a clicker forever?

No! The clicker is a temporary tool used to teach a behaviour. You can then intermittently fade it out. It’s a training tool, don’t use it forever. However you can bring it back if you ever feel that your dog is relapsing or you want to train a new behaviour.

INSTRUCTIONS ON USING A CLICKER


Grab a clicker and follow the instructions below.

GET PREPARED

Ensure you have your clicker and a pouch of food ready before you start. We sell custom-made  pouches that make training easy, or you can just keep the treats in an easily accessible pocket. You only need very small pieces of a  high-value food (we use chicken, cheese or dog roll). Repetition is more important that the size of the treat, so use smaller pieces but practise more often. Remember to remove the amount of food you give your dog in training treats from their diet so they don’t become overweight!

EXERCISE

Take your dog for a walk and play beforehand to burn off any excess energy, unless you have an older or slower dog that needs the energy to get motivated for a training session.

CALM AND QUIET

Set up in a calm, quiet space with minimal distractions such as your living room. Have your dog on a lead.

CLEAR PURPOSE

Have a clear plan on what behaviour you want to train in this session (e.g. the “sit” command). If your dog already knows ‘sit’, you can practise this command as a way to show them how the clicker works.

LURE

Prompt the behaviours you want using food as a lure. For example, when you want the ‘sit’ command, move food up and over the dog’s head – you’ll find they will lean back and sit down to follow the food.

TIMING

Click as soon as your dog does the desired behaviour, so for a sit command, click as soon as your dog’s bottom hits the ground. Timing this right is critical. A good way to practise using the clicker is to bounce a tennis ball, and try to click the instant the ball hits the ground. This game helps you get good at clicking at just the right moment, which is critical for successful training!

FOOD REWARD

A click is a promise to your dog that they’ll get a food reward. So every time you click, offer a food reward.

REPEAT

Keep up the click and reward training until your dog is actioning your command on cue.

BASICS

Once one command is mastered, start teaching others such as wait, stay, come, down and no. Once you’ve got a few under your belt, you can consolidate them using proofing.

PROOFING

This is about getting your dog to perform commands in more distracting environments. Slowly start using locations with more distractions using the above method.

FADE THE CLICKER

Once you’ve mastered the command, begin to use the clicker intermittently as training progresses, until finally the commands are performed without it at all.

TOP TIPS

  • Timing on the clicker is critical – click as soon as they exhibit the behaviour you want.
  • Make sure that if you use the clicker, you always give a food reward – it’s a promise!
  • Start in a quiet distraction-free environment.

Once you’re using a clicker, you can use it to teach a dog pretty much any command and correct a wide variety of behavioural issues!

If you want to learn how to train your pup or dog using the clicker, check out my Virtual Puppy and Dog Schools.

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