Open the toolkit of many dog trainers and you will find a small plastic device called a clicker. What is it about clicker training that excites trainers so much? Quite simply the clicker offers an effective form of communication.
The rules of clicker training are simple: the correct behaviour is marked with a click and the treat is delivered after the click. The clicker sound initially has no meaning until it is paired with food or play. You press the clicker, which emits a “click” sound, at the exact moment your dog offers the correct behaviour. You then reward with a treat. It is this matching of the sound to a behaviour with such clarity together with promise of a reward that makes the clicker so effective.
Now you understand the principles are you ready to teach your dog? Starting with a familiar behaviour ask your dog to sit and click as his bottom hits the ground. Throw him a treat (to move him off sit position). After several repetitions your dog will probably offer a sit without prompting – so click and treat him. You may see the cogs whirring as your dog considers what behaviour earns him a click and treat!
Next ask your dog to touch a coaster with his nose. Rub food scent on it and present it close to his nose. Click and treat him for showing any interest, even a glance. Remove the object after the click, treat your dog and then re-present. Similar to the getting warmer or colder game children play, getting warmer receives a click and treat while getting colder receives no click.
Can you teach your dog to step on a mat? Place the mat in front of your feet. Throw a treat about 1 m behind the mat so that your dog has to run to get it. As he returns click him for stepping on the mat. Repeat. What about a paw wave? Hold a treat in your clenched fist in front of your dog. He is likely to raise a paw in an effort to reach the food, so click and treat any small movements. Use small, tasty rewards. Sandwich ham or chicken cut into small 0.5 – 1 cm squares are ideal. Keep training sessions short.
Once your dog understands the concept of click equals treat it is easy to explain what he has done right. The clicker removes guesswork, engaging your dog’s brain when he has to work out what makes you click. Complex tasks can be taught with clicker training and it is often used for teaching assistance dogs.
Clicker training bridges the communication gap. It improves your own teaching skills and builds rapport with your dog. But above all it’s great fun!
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