Clicker Training: What Is It? And How Does It Work?

Clicker training is a method initially used to train marine mammals. The clicker sound functions as a reward marker. It provides essential feedback for an animal’s correct response to a learned cue or offering a desirable behavior. The sound of the clicker quickly becomes relevant to the dog when it is followed by a reward, such as a bite of food or access to a favorite toy. Engaging in a behavior that results in a “click”, indicates that a reward is anticipated. Karen Pryor is the “founding mother” of applying this method to dog training. Her book Don’t Shoot the Dog remains a terrific resource decades after its original publication.

The clicker is a highly effective tool in a positive reinforcement training program. The method works so well because it is behavior-based, applies animal learning theory, and maintains simple and clear communications between human and canine.

We humans forget that dogs aren’t verbal. They are visual learners who come to understand words that are paired with visual cues and repeatedly rewarded. Dogs learn quickly with very little talking. The clicker sound is unique, and therefore, meaningful. The words “good girl/boy” or “yes” often become over-used and lose impact. Similarly, “no” as a correction word or behavior interrupter isn’t the most effective choice.

Click to Shape Behaviors

Installing desirable default behaviors is easy with clicker training. No verbal obedience cues are necessary. Dogs offer us lots of behaviors to determine which ones will “work” for them. When your dog offers you a behavior that you would like to “stick”, click and reward it. Very quickly your dog will offer that behavior more frequently. He learned that it “works” for him and figured out that he can make the click and reward sequence happen by offering it.

This training technique is called shaping, and it is a powerful way to teach your dog calm behaviors. The dog must think through which behaviors result in clicks and rewards and which behaviors yield no especially gratifying results. We all want thinking dogs! What a terrific way to provide your smart dog with the mental stimulation she needs.

Click to Teach Obedience Cues

Verbal obedience cues are easier for your dog to learn using the clicker. It is an immediate and clear marker that he responded correctly.   Basics cues, taught with the clicker, result in sustained responses. There is no quick “sit” and back to standing or jumping. The click sound marks the instant that your dog’s bottom is on the floor: that is the clicked and rewarded response. If shaping was introduced and the dog already offers to sit, lie down, and look at you, it’s a matter of attaching words and visual cues to those behaviors. They “work “for him.

Passive cues, such as “wait” and “stay” are challenging for many dogs to learn (and owners to teach). The correct response is to, simply, pause or remain in place until released. The clicker is helpful in communicating this “non-action” to your dog.

Click to Resolve Problem Behaviors

The clicker works at any age, for every breed, and for almost any temperament. All but the most noise sensitive dogs can be de-sensitized to the sound of the clicker and benefit from this training method. Owners can start clicker training and transition over time to the use of a verbal reward marker.

Countless problem behaviors can be corrected with clicker training. Poor leash walking skills improve with appropriate equipment and use of the clicker. One of the best ways to halt excessive barking in an adolescent or adult dog is to “click” silence. Dogs who live in overdrive slow down with clicker training: reactivity and thinking about offering “clicked” behaviors don’t mesh. Timid and shy dogs come out of their own heads when they focus on the training rather than a scary person, object, or situation

The clicker is not a corrector or an attention getter away from undesirable behaviors. You may inadvertently mark your dog’s chewing a table leg! Say your dog’s name in a non-punitive way and ask him to “watch” or “come”.   Click those behaviors instead.


Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2016 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]