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Clicker training is a possibly the most modern and pro active method of training a dog. It is incredibly powerful and can convert even the most reluctant canine student into an ardent learner.
The clicker sound indicates to the dog what EXACTLY it has done right.
It is important to understand that the click is not a reward in itself. The click is the positive consequence of the dogs actions. It tells the dog that it has done something right and that a reward is coming.
Introducing the Clicker to Your Dog
Use very tasty treats, such as liver cake, chicken, cheese or sausage when introducing a clicker. Ultimately you can use the dog's own food but mix it with something special.
You must teach your dog that a click means that a reward is coming. Without speaking or doing anything, click once and give your dog one treat. Repeat this over and over for at least thirty seconds - you will use a lot of treats so keep them small to avoid filling your dog up!
Vary the way the reward is delivered - feed from your hand, toss the treat to your dog, throw the treat away from you so that your dog can run after it. It is best to give the treat immediately after the click, while introducing the clicker. Later you can sometimes leave it a few seconds before giving the treat after the click.
This repeated process teaches your dog that when he hears the click, he will always get a reward and that it could arrive in different ways.
Repeat this introduction process for at least a couple of days before using the clicker to train your dog.
A few dogs are nervous of the clicker sound, particularly if they are sensitive to other loud noises. If this is the case then muffle the clicker sound until you find a volume your dog is happy with. You can quieten the clicker by using it behind your back, in a coat pocket or wrapped in a cloth. As your dog understands what clicker training is about, you might find that he eventually accepts louder clicks.
Take care not to click too close to your dog's head! Dog's have very sensitive hearing.
Jackpots are extra exciting rewards and are essential in clicker training.
When your dog suddenly understands an exercise he has struggled with, or has performed spectacularly a jackpot will reinforce the effort he has put in.
As usual you click once, but instead of one or two small treats, reward him with a handful! You can rapidly feed these one at a time, altogether, or let him gobble them from the floor.
As jackpot rewards follow great attempts from your dog, you should follow the jackpot with a break from training. This gives your dog time to relax and when you return to that exercise in your next training session, your dog's mind will be fresh and he will enthusiastically remember that last big reward.
In clicker training the owner is very quiet - only introducing commands when the dog fully understands what is being rewarded. However, it is still important to include praise with the reward of food or a toy - a quiet "good dog" is all that is needed. When giving a jackpot reward you can be even happier in your praise, "what a clever dog!" and fuss your dog, if he enjoys this, at the same time he is eating his reward.
You will need to work on perfecting your timing and introducing your dog to easy exercises. Choose a simple command that your dog already knows, such as a 'sit' or a 'down'.
Ask your dog to 'sit' and at the exact moment your dog's bottom touches the floor, click and reward. After repeating this process 10 times, wait and see how your dog reacts - he should automatically sit. When he does, give a jackpot reward and take a short break from training.
As your dog learns that it is his actions that make you click he will become more enthusiastic and you will be able to begin clicking and rewarding him for the faster or straighter sits.
Practice this with a couple of exercises your dog is comfortable with until your timing is perfect.
Dogs, like people, enjoy certain exercises and find others quite dull. As your dog gets addicted to clicker training, you can use it to liven up boring exercises. Use lots of jackpots when your dog makes a little more than his usual effort.
Learning Something New
When teaching your dog a new trick or exercise with a clicker, you can either help your dog by luring or you can wait for your dog to do the behaviour you want.
For example if you choose to train your dog to look to one side, begin by having your dog sat in front of you.
Eventually your dog will look away from you - at the moment your dog's head moves, click and treat. Set your dog up again and wait for your dog to repeat the action.
At first you might click for small head movements or glances in the direction you want your dog to look and very gradually build up to more exaggerated moves.
This process might take some time but will allow your dog to work it out for himself.
The alternative is to help your dog. You can do this by having a helper stand to one side, slightly behind your dog and quietly and calmly say your dog's name. As your dog turns to look at the helper, click and treat.
Repeat this process until your dog is beginning to anticipate the call. At this point ask your helper to remain quiet - your dog will be expecting the call and will glance in the helper's direction. Be ready to click the movement and reward your dog with a jackpot.
When training something new, do not begin giving a command until your dog is reliably performing the behaviour you want.
When your dog will perform the exercise or trick to the standard you are happy with and will repeat it several times (being clicked and rewarded each time) then you are ready to add a command.
Choose a word to use as a command and as your dog does the action say the word. You will need to repeat this many times until your dog learns to associate the command with the action, you should still be clicking and rewarding.
What to do if it goes Wrong
At some point in your training your dog might struggle with a new exercise that had seemed to be going well. This usually happens if you rush onto the next stage before your dog fully understands the basics.
Most importantly, don't get cross or disappointed with your dog. Unhappy, stressed dogs cannot learn and will begin to associate the clicker with bad moods!
Go back a few stages to something your dog understood and enjoyed. Repeat this "easy" stage and end your training on a good note to boost your dog's confidence. At your next training session, repeat the "easy" stage and gradually build up to the "difficult" stage. When your dog makes a breakthrough, however small, give him a jackpot reward and end the session on a high.
If you are still struggling ask one of the trainers for help.
Rules of Clicker Training
Dogs are very quick to accept the rules of clicker training but people are a little slower! Breaking the rules results in dogs learning that the clicker is confusing and best ignored.
The rules are:
Never use the clicker to get your dog's attention.
A reward always follows a click. Even if you click by accident or at the wrong moment you must reward your dog.
Only click once. If you want to give your dog a big reward follow the click with a jackpot. The click tells the dog what it has done right, the reward tells the dog that it was worth doing right.
Only train for very short periods of time - clicker training is mentally tiring (sometimes for people as well as dogs) and it is easy to push your dog too far when you are enjoying seeing your dog really using his brain. Let him rest after each session to absorb the new exercise.
Never get angry when things go wrong.
Freestyle training and offering of behaviours
Once a dog fully understands the concept of the clicker he may well start 'offering' new behaviours. If the dog understands that it is his actions which generate the click and subsequently the reward, then he may begin coming up with new behaviours to see if he can generate a click. This can be a lot of fun to watch and the part that I enjoy most. The dog has become creative. It is fascinating to see into your dogs mind, as he strives for new ideas and ways of making the click happen. It is a great opportunity to exercise your dogs brain without even leaving the comfort of your floor or sofa.
Remember though, you do not have to click for everything your dog does. Remember if you click the behaviour is likely to be repeated. If you don't click it is not likely to be repeated.
Do not click for behaviours that you might not want, like barking or pawing at your leg.
Getting Rid of the Clicker
A common myth of clicker training is that you will need your clicker with you at all times to get your dog to behave.
Fortunately, this is not true. Once your dog understands a new exercise and learns the command that goes with it, you will be able to stop using the clicker for that exercise.
You will still reward your dog with treats/praise occasionally and you might find it helpful to use the clicker again for that specific exercise if your dog loses enthusiasm in the future.
The clicker is brilliant for teaching new behaviours and for practicing old ones, but is not something that you need to use at all times.
Original compilation by Amanda Leek, updated by Denise Mcleod.
With thanks to Amanda. Copyright CaDeLac Dog Training