In this ultimate guide we will teach you how to use a clicker to train your dog. This simple but powerful training tool is very effective.
What is a Clicker?
A clicker is a small hand-held tool, commonly used for training dogs. It allows you to clearly mark a desired behaviour offered by your dog by making a “click” followed by a reward (normally a tasty treat).
Why would you use one?
Because it is a safe, easy, kind, effective and scientifically proven tool that helps your dog understand what you want from them quickly.
Daisy demonstrating a great “wait”, even though it is a liver cake! All taught with a Clicker
What is the best one to get?
There are lots of Clickers on the market and everyone has their own personal favourite. Some Clickers are slow to click, messing up your timing. Some can have a really loud click and this can be too much for a dog that may be sound sensitive. Some can be very clunky and difficult to hold and click.
We recommend the most popular brand on the market. The I-Click from world-renowned Clicker Trainer, Karen Pryor. It is light, reliable, easy to use, inexpensive and the click noise is not too loud.
We would recommend getting a wrist coil to attach it too. That way, if you drop it or have a short break in a training session, it is easy to grab hold of again.
How does Clicker Training work?
By using a Clicker you are giving a clear and consistent marker to your dog. You click every time they offer a desired behaviour and, immediately following this, you offer the food reward. This helps the dog to understand what behaviour you are looking for and motivates them to offer it again. It is a much more consistent marker than a voice command. When you use your voice the tone and volume can vary greatly and this can influence the behaviour.
Don’t forget to reward your dog immediately after the Click
What can you teach using a Clicker?
The options are limitless! Simple commands such as sit, down, paw are easy to teach using a clicker. You can also work on more complex tricks and putting together a chain of behaviours too.
We love the “101 things you can do with a box game” described by Karen Prior. If a group of you are all working with your dogs at the same time on this, it is amazing to see the different behaviours that each dog will have come up with by the end of the training session.
When using a clicker you can lure your dog into a certain position or you can shape the behaviour. Shaping is when your dog offers you a behaviour and then you ask for a little more each time. If you are teaching your dog to lie down, you start with a very short down and then you gradually ask for a longer period of time in the down (here you are Shaping).
One common example of shaping may be getting your dog used to a muzzle. It can seem a scary item to begin with and we don’t recommend just shoving it on your dog straight away. It could freak them out and lead to a battle trying to get it on in the future.
By shaping the introduction of a muzzle using a clicker you can get great results. You would start with just laying the muzzle on the ground and clicking (and rewarding) every time your dog moves towards the muzzle. Then click and treat every time they touch it. Next step would be to click every time they put their nose into the muzzle, then fully in, then holding it in, then on for a few seconds, and so on, until they are able to wear the muzzle for extended periods without becoming stressed.
Don’t model your dog into a behaviour. By this we mean, don’t push or force them to do it. Some dogs can find being forced into a position stressful and confusing.
Clicker training keeps training fun, clear and consistent for your dog. Sam was taught a lot of commands with a Clicker and you can see the smile on his face!
Is it just dogs that can be trained with a Clicker?
Absolutely not. Any animal, including humans, can be trained using a Clicker. Karen Pryor developed the technique when she was working as a Marine Biologist with Dolphins. Increasingly, wild animal rescue sanctuaries and zoos across the world train their animals using Clickers. It can be really helpful for ensuring less hands on contact between the keeper and the animal, reducing stress and risk. Often animals will be trained to present themselves for applications of medicines or for moving them into alternative enclosures.
Dolphin being trained using a Clicker
Our Ten Quick Tips for Clicker Training Success
- “Charging your Clicker” : if you haven’t used a Clicker with your dog before, it is important to make sure that they understand what it is all about. Some noise sensitive dogs may be a bit unsure about it at first. Before you start using it to mark a desired behaviour, it is a good idea to have a session where you just get your dog used to the sound and that it is always followed by a treat. Not only will this acclimate your dog to the new sound, but it will also mean that they are more motivated come the next session. When they hear the sound they know something good is going to follow.
- Timing is everything: make sure you mark the behaviour as it is happening, not before, not after. If you don’t get it right your dog may not understand what you are asking for
- You don’t need to click more than once: if you are really pleased with how your dog has offered a great behaviour don’t click it multiple times. Just click the once and then you can give a “Jackpot” treat instead. A Jackpot is giving lots of small treats one after the other, or something especially tasty, so your dog is getting an extra reward and extra motivation.
- Don’t go overboard: when something is going well it can be easy to get carried away. Don’t forget that your dog can get tired,overstimulated and distracted. You want to set them up for success. Keep your clicker training sessions short and often, five or ten minutes is usually more than enough. If they start to get distracted and lose interest you will have more difficulty getting good results and the session will be less effective.
- Don’t try to go too fast: when training longer chains of behaviour or looking to lengthen a command, don’t expect too much, too soon. For example, if you are training a down stay and you want to increase the length of the time they stay down, work on this gradually. Start with 5 seconds and, with each successful down, wait an additional second before clicking. Don’t try to go from a 5 second down stay to a 30 second one immediately. You are setting both you and your dog up to fail this way.
- Frustration doesn’t make for a good session : if your dog is not getting what you are looking for, don’t get frustrated. You need to be patient and sometimes go back to basics. If you can feel your frustration rising it may be better to stop the session and start again another time.
- Don’t add the command at the beginning: when you are first looking for a behaviour, to avoid confusion and overload, you should only click to mark the behaviour. Once your dog is offering up the behaviour reliably and voluntarily this is when you can add in the “Cue”, this is the voice or visual command you want to use to get them to offer the behaviour. Once they are reliably responding to the Cue you can phase out the Clicker.
- Don’t use it to try to correct behaviours: we have seen people in the past aggressively clicking and shouting no when their dog is doing something they don’t want them to – barking for example. This won’t work. What will work though is clicking when they offer an alternative desired behaviour. So, if your dog barks frantically everytime someone comes to the door, wait until they are quiet for at least five seconds and then reward them for not barking. If you are consistent with this they will begin to understand that barking does not result in good things but being quiet does.
- Pay Up : don’t forget to always provide a reward after the click. Even if you click by mistake, you need to be consistent. Don’t forget that your dog is working for the reward, not the click.
- Don’t click to get your dog to listen to you: remember, this is all about training a desired behaviour. You are marking when the dog does what you want them to do. We often see a lot of people clicking just to get the dog to listen or come to them. Rookie error. You are not marking a desired behaviour. If your dog was barking and you click to get their attention, you may be inadvertently teaching your dog to bark more.
Daisy often accompanied me into work and we needed a nice reliable down stay in her “place”. This was initially taught using a Clicker and she was always settled and relaxed.
Where can I go to find out more about Clicker Training?
Clickertraining.com: Probably the most extensive, reputable and comprehensive resource available on the subject. This is the website from world renowned Clicker Trainer, Karen Pryor. It is packed with tips, techniques and news. This should be your go-to resource if this article has inspired you to go on a Clicker training journey with your dog.