An Easy Way to Train Your Dog
You’ve just brought your puppy or new dog home but they have little to no formal training. You know your pup needs to learn to sit, stay, got to mat, but you’re suddenly realizing they don’t just automatically do those things right off the bat!
It all seemed so easy before you came home, but now this sweet, fluffy face is staring at you and you suddenly find yourself thinking: “What the heck do I do now?!”
Clicker Train Your Dog
There are many training methods and tools out there, but luckily one of the easiest and most straightforward is also one of the smallest and cheapest: the clicker!
First off, what on earth is a clicker?
A quick search on Amazon will reveal many different clickers for dog training, ranging from super simple to more complex.
At the most basic level, a clicker is just a small, handheld device that has a button you can press to make a clicking sound, almost like a snap. One click per button-press. It’s as simple as that.
But this simple action can become a valuable part of your dog-training arsenal, and a great example of much-loved “positive reinforcement”.
Positive reinforcement is just what it sounds like:
Using positive methods to reinforce or reward a behavior you like
When you reward your dog with a treat or verbal praise (positive feedback)
Positive reinforcement increases the likelihood that your dog will repeat that behavior to get more treats and praise
Our dogs want to please us, and they respond to praise and rewards, especially treats. When you make the connection in your dog’s head between the clicker and a reward, your dog knows that the clicker means they have done something good, and that a reward is coming.
Benefits of Clicker Training
Sometimes it can take a moment between when a dog does something we like and when we are able to get a treat out of our pocket and give it to her.
In the meantime, even a short amount of time, your dog may have done 3 other things, and so there is the possibility of creating uncertainly around which behavior exactly you are rewarding, especially in a puppy.
Since the clicker=positive reward, as soon as the dog hears the clicker she knows when she has done a good job, and exactly which behavior it is that you are happy about.
She also knows a treat is on the way!
How To Begin Clicker Training
The first thing you need to do for your dog is create a connection between the sound of the clicker and receiving treats. This is easy and fun, especially for your dog!
Make sure you’re prepared: buy your clicker and a bag of awesome, delicious treats
You’ll be using a lot of treats to reinforce the behavior so make sure to break larger treats into 15-20 smaller pieces (or take 15-20 small treats)
Don’t use regular kibble for clicker training. You want your dog to associate the click with receiving a really delicious goodie, so use the highest-value treats you can
Reward the behavior you want
Bring your dog to a quiet area where there aren’t lots of distractions
Click the clicker once and immediately give your dog a treat
You should both throw the treats on the ground and give them directly from your hand
Do this until all the treats are gone
Make it fun
Make sure you and your dog are in a good frame of mind
Repeat several times throughout the day instead of doing one long session
Remember, the more you both enjoy the process, the more successful these sessions will be
Soon you will notice your dog getting excited when he or she sees you go for the clicker. She may even start to lick her lips in anticipation of the coming treats. Then you know you are ready for the next step!
Clicker Train A Behavior or Action
Now that you have given your clicker its positive meaning, it’s time to try using it to reinforce or teach a behavior or action.
Let’s say you are trying to encourage your dog to make eye contact with you:
Take your dog, clicker and treats to an area without distractions, maybe a quiet area in your house.
Sit or stand near your dog.
As soon as your dog makes eye contact with you, no matter how brief, click the clicker and throw a treat.
Wait for it to happen again, and repeat.
You don’t need to get your dog to stare at you nonstop, that can often be stressful for dogs, you just want a quick glance at you.
Reward every time your dog makes eye contact with you.
Do this for a few minutes
Repeat several times a day until you feel your dog is getting the point that looking at you is a good thing!
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
The great thing is, the clicker can be used to train any manner of commands and behaviors such as sit, lie down, roll over, play dead, shake, touch, speak, spin, go to mat, go in your crate, the list goes on and on!
Just remember to click the second your dog does the behavior you are trying to teach or reinforce, and then treat. Timing is everything.
You don’t need to be an expert dog trainer to get great results through clicker training. This simple method is a gentle, easy tool to use to train your dog basic and more advanced commands safely, gently, positively and lovingly.
Karen Pryor has a great book that can also get you started and help you on your clicker training journey.
And don’t forget those high-value treats!