What Is Clicker Training?
You may have heard of clicker training, and you may not be quite certain what it is. Is it right for me? Is it right for my dog? Do I always need the clicker? Where did Clicker Training come from? As a force free dog trainer I find clicker training extremely useful, but perhaps not in the way some of you are accustomed, or perhaps in a way you haven’t heard of; I like to use it for capturing.
In clicker training, the click is a marker for the moment the animal has shown us a desired behavior. To teach the dog this we start by warming up the clicker, simply by clicking and feeding a treat after we click. At first you can click anytime, as long as your dog isn’t doing something naughty. We teach the dog to understand that that sound predicts good things coming. It is the same idea as Pavlov’s Dogs who learned the sound of the bell meant their food was coming, and thus the bell made the dogs’ mouths to water in anticipation of what follows. This is exactly what we want our dog to learn about the click.
After warming up the clicker with the reward immediately following, we want to vary the amount of time between the marker (click) and the reward, this way we can still use the marker when our dog is far away, because he has learned that sometimes the rewards take a bit longer following the marker. Once we have finished warming up the clicker, we can start to use it for training. Trainers use the clicker for everything from basic obedience, to shaping. Shaping is when we decide a desired behavior, let’s say a spin, and then we will start with very low criteria for the dog to earn clicks, so we may click and treat when the dog simply turns her head. Then once the dog is offering us a head turn, we may only click if the dog turns her head at least a quarter of the way around, and so on until the full spin is the only behavior that earns the click.
I personally love to use clickers for capturing. Capturing is when we don’t ask our dog for a specific behavior, but simply wait for her to offer us the behavior on her own, and then I capture this with a click and treat! For example, if your dog barks at the doorbell, I love the clicker to help teach quiet. Dogs mimic our behaviors, so when they are barking, any talking from us is likely to make the barking worse. Especially the yelling match that sometimes happens: BARK, “QUIET,” BARK, “QUIET,” which came first? I find it much better to ring the doorbell, let your dog bark, and wait for the quiet, as soon as your dog offers you some quiet, click and treat! Remember the example of the spin, criteria should change, so when you first start this your dog should earn a click for even a moment of quiet, but as you train you can change the criteria to two seconds of quiet, then four, and so on.
Another good example is using the clicker to train your dog not jump using capturing. Allow your dog to jump, and as soon as she stops, click and treat. After a while, if you notice that she looks like she wants to jump, but holds herself back, click and treat for this and even jackpot her with 3 small treats in a row for making such good choices! I love to use clickers for capturing because dogs think they are training us to click by offering us nice behaviors. Even if you don’t think you will need a clicker I think it is best to warm up the clicker to your dog so that if you need it, she already knows what it means, and the best news is, it is never too early, or too late to start clicker training! If you are interested in clicker training, please go to our ‘Contact Us‘ Page and fill in your information, include a note about the clicker blog, and your favorite colors, and I will happily send you a Pawsibilities Clicker to get started!