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How to Clicker Train Your Dog

By Laura Nativo

Clicker training is a fun and progressive method of training where we use positive reinforcement to help teach learned behavior and better communicate with animals. Clicker training is based on what scientists know about how all living creatures learn.

By marking and rewarding desirable behavior, we can teach dogs just about anything they are physically and mentally capable of achieving. Clicker training works with any animal regardless of age, breed, species – you can even try it on your friends! Consistency and timing are absolutely key in this type of training so be sure to give your dog your full attention during the training process.

What You’ll Need

  • Clicker
  • Treat pouch
  • Stop watch (you can use an app on your phone, if available)
  • Healthy, high-value treats – and lots of them!
  • A quiet training space

Clicker Training in 7 Steps

Step 1: Go to a quiet training location where you and your pup are comfortable.

Step 2: Put your hands behind your back with the treats ready from your treat pouch. Keeping your hands still or hidden will keep your dog from getting distracted by the reward.

Step 3: WATCH carefully for the behavior you want (sit, lay down[KB1] , touch, etc.).

Step 4: MARK the action with a click from the clicker the precise moment your dog does it – not after. Think of this like snapping a photo.

Step 5: REINFORCE the behavior within one second of the click. You want to reward the behavior right away with a treat or toy.

You can also give your dog verbal praise, but during the learning process it’s best to remain quiet to allow your dog the chance to focus more clearly on the sound of the clicker rather than your voice.

Step 6: Repeat Steps 1-5 until you feel that your dog has mastered them (usually about 8-10 times). Keep your training sessions short, about two minutes each.

Step 7: Move to a new location and do it all again.

using-a-clicker-to-train-a-pit-bull

Why Clicker Training Works

This works because of the ABC's of behavior: Antecedent > Behavior > Consequence.

A > something happens B > there is behavior. C > there is a consequence.

This process of learning is known as operant conditioning, and all living organisms learn in the same way.

The consequences influence the next action. Our dogs choose their behavior, and we decide the consequence – we can ignore, reward, or punish. That is why dog trainers have a mantra, “set your dog up for success!” Because we understand how positive reinforcement (rewarding good behavior) is the kindest way to impact behavior change.

You can teach new tricks and behaviors or diminish unwanted behaviors through lack of reinforcement. Clicker training is wonderful because it accelerates learning, encourages creativity, and produces long term recall. It is also very forgiving of human error; if you click too early or too late, the worst that happens is your dog getting an extra treat! Because the dog is never wrong in clicker training, it helps build confidence and strengthen the human animal bond.

Adding Cues to Behaviors

Once your dog is confidently repeating the behavior, they’re ready to learn the cue. A cue is a name for the behavior. You can use a visual gesture, a spoken word, or even a signal in the environment. Positive trainers use “cue” instead of “command” because a cue is an opportunity for reinforcement whereas a command has more of a “you must do this right now” feel to it.

A clicker is for the learning phase of training and is only necessary until your dog learns a behavior and generalizes the cue. Instead, you can use a verbal marker, like "YES!" and random rewards to keep your dog motivated to listen.

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