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Clicker Training 101: How Do I Use It To Communicate With My Dog?

Clicker Training 101: How Do I Use It To Communicate With My Dog?

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Clicker training is a powerful and proven training technique that relies on positive reinforcement. Its effectiveness has been demonstrated in a variety of species, but is especially popular with dogs. This innovative method is used by professional trainers and doting dog parents alike. However, how is it any different than showering your pup with dog treats for good behavior? If you want to learn more about this scientifically-backed training technique and how you could use it with your pup, read on!

What Is A Dog Training Clicker?

Dog Training Clickers

A clicker is a simple, handheld device. It typically consists of a metal tongue inside a plastic box that makes a distinct “click” noise when pressed. The “magic” behind a clicker is that it emits a quick sound that is more consistent and distinct than a verbal cue such as, “That’s a good boy!” Some clickers produce a sharper and higher-pitched click while others make a duller and lower noise. In truth, a clicker doesn’t need need to “click” to be effective. The training device simply needs to emit a consistent and distinctive sound. However, given the popularity of plastic-metal clickers, the classic training clicker is typically the most easily accessible and reliable clicker training device.

How Does Clicker Training Work?

Dog and dog trainer

Though it may seem confusing at first, clicker training is a straightforward method that any human and dog can learn with practice! Clicker training operates on the basis of positive reinforcement. This fancy term simply means that providing a reward after a behavior will increase the target behavior. For example, a kid who gets a toy after acing a test will likely be more motivated to study for each test or a dog who receives attention for rolling over is likely to roll over more. Clicker training involves both the clicker and a high value reward (usually dog treats). After each time the dog performs the desired behavior, the trainer will immediately click the clicker and provide the reward. With repetition, your dog will associate the clicker with a tasty treats.

For dogs, clicker training is easier to learn than command-based training. Unfortunately, Fido can’t always decipher your human phrases with their doggy ears – even if they seem like the world’s greatest listener. So the consistent and unmistakable “click” of a clicker simplifies the training process for them.

Little White Dog

You may be wondering, “How is this any different from simply giving treats? Why is the ‘click’ necessary?” Good questions! According to the American Kennel Club, the clicker “bridges the time gap between the subject’s behavior and the delivery of the reinforcing reward.” Meaning, it helps your dog understand and distinguish the target behavior because the click happens at the exact moment the behavior is occurring.

For example, perhaps a trainer wants to train a Labrador Retriever to catch a tennis ball mid-air. Without marking the exact action of the dog catching the ball mid-air, the dog doesn’t know if they’re being rewarded for running fast, jumping high, returning the ball, or catching the ball. Or if you’re trying to teach your pup to roll over, you may command them to sit, lay down, roll over. With traditional training, your dog may think they’re being rewarded for sitting or laying down and thus will not roll over consistently. So clicker training is especially useful with complex tricks. However, its effectiveness spans from the simplest of behaviors to wacky, multi-step tricks!

What Does It Mean To “Charge A Clicker”?

Dog with treat

No, charging a clicker doesn’t mean plugging in the clicker or fueling any batteries. This funky phrase simply means to reinforce the dog’s association between the click and treats (or any reward of your choice). So it reminds your dog of this very important equation: click = reward.

This can be done by clicking the clicker and immediately giving the reward. If you’re using treats, this will look like click-treat, click-treat, click-treat. Repeat this a few times until your dog perks up and looks for a treat after the sound of the clicker. To keep the association strong, it is important to deliver the reward within 3 seconds while charging and training. During the beginning of the clicker training, the charging process may require more attempts. But with repetition, the sound of a click will have your dog salivating faster than Pavlov’s pups.

Can A Clicker Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?

Dog Giving Paw Shake

Clicker training disprove the age-old adage, “You can’t teach and old dog new tricks.” Whether your canine companion is a puppy or a senior citizen, clicker training is a great option! There are no age limits that deem any pup too young or too old for clicker training. Though it is advised to begin obedience training immediately, no dog is too old to begin. One consideration to keep in mind with older dogs is hearing ability. Like humans, oftentimes dog’s hearing ability wanes in with age. Since the clicker is an auditory device, ensure that your dog’s hearing ability is intact before proceeding with clicker training.

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Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

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