woman clicker training puppy

How to Clicker Train Your Dog

Clicker training is a form of positive reinforcement training. While learning how to clicker train your dog, you simply add in a click that marks the behavior you want to see repeated.  Professional dog trainers view clicker training as an effective technique to reinforce good behaviors.

What exactly is a clicker?  A clicker is a little mechanical device with a metal strip inside that you can easily hold in your hand.  It has a little button on one end that when pressed makes a distinct but small clicking sound.

When your dog exhibits a behavior that is worthy of rewarding, you will press the clicker which makes a sound.  Another name for clicker training is mark and reward training.  The click is marking a correct behavior and a reward is soon to follow. 

In How to Clicker Train Your Dog, we will look at the reasoning behind using a clicker, the benefits of clicker training, and how to begin using a clicker when training your dog.

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How to Clicker Train your Dog: Reasons for Using a Clicker   

A clicker is an easy tool for making dog training efficient. Dog owners, dog trainers, professional trainers, and animal behavioralists can all use the clicker for training dogs.

Professional trainers that work with animals started using clicker training based on the sciences of how animals learn.  What they saw were behaviors that were rewarded will be repeated.

  • Fun Fact:  Clicker training can be used with almost any kind of pet; rabbits, goats, chickens, cats, and even rodents.

The Science Dog reported that “clicker training promotes active learning and encourages dogs to think for themselves.” Dog trainers found the clicker trained dogs eager to learn and more attentive as “command compliance training.” (“Why we Click by Linda P Case.)

Clickers can be used to teach any new behavior. They are especially successful when using multiple steps in training that require you to be a little distance from your dog.

Jumping in and learning how to clicker train your dog could result in a well-behaved dog that has good manners and is eager to learn.

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How to Clicker Train your Dog: Benefits of Clicker Training  

Now we know the reasons behind why people learn how to use a clicker, but it is also important to look at the many benefits.

Learning how to clicker train your dog focuses on the behaviors you would like to see repeated in your dog.  We will look at six specific benefits of clicker training.

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6 Benefits of Clicker Training Your Dog

  1. Clickers can be used as a conditioned reinforcer for basic commands like sit, down, stay, or for more complex behaviors like a fold back down.
  2. It clearly marks and communicates to the dog in a timely manner.
  3. The dog is rewarded for performing a desirable behavior with both a click and a treat.
  4. Strengthens the dog-to-human bond due to clear communication.
  5. Builds confidence in your dog.
  6. Your dog desires to respond correctly.

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Training your dog takes dedication and commitment.  Learning how to clicker train your dog will add an enjoyment element and hopefully succeed at a faster pace.

The key to finding success with using clicker training is to follow it up with a reward, often a tasty treat.  It is important the reward is something your dog values. 

Once your dog is conditioned to the click, you will slowly back off the treats and eventually just use the clicker.  When you are unsure of this process seek out a professional trainer specializing in using clickers.  They will be able to guide you through that transition much easier.

Dog owners have seen success with using a clicker for obedience training and for teaching good manners. Another valuable benefit for every dog owner is a confident, well-mannered dog that trusts and bonds with them.

How to Clicker Train your Dog

Before you begin using a clicker to train your dog, train yourself on the best use of a clicker.  Just like with your dog, the more you use it, the better you will become at the timing of the click and reading your dog’s body language.

If you currently use a marker word like “yes”, you can replace the word with a click.

How to Clicker Train your Dog:  Introduce the Clicker

A couple of tips for reinforcing the success associated with learning how to clicker train your dog.

  • Press the clicker once
  • Do not point it at your dog (hold it by your side)
  • Clicks are followed up with treats

First, establish with your dog that a click means something positive.  Click and reward your dog.  Repeat 10 – 20 x’s with your dog.  Your dog is beginning to understand that the click predicts a reward is coming. 

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You can use a clicker with a specific training session and use it throughout your day.  When your dog performs a behavior you like, click and reward your dog.

As your dog is learning what behaviors get rewarded, they will perform behaviors that do not get a reward.  This process of your dog thinking and trying new behaviors will instill in them the correct behavior efficiently.

5 Steps to How to Clicker Train your Dog

  1. Be prepared with tasty rewards and a clicker.  Keep in mind for some dogs their kibble is a delicious reward but most dogs like something a bit more.  Small pieces of cooked chicken, treats containing liver, or small pieces of cooked ground turkey.

It’s more effective if your dog loves the reward and they do not need to chew the pieces.  You will want to size the pieces according to your dog.  Most treats the size of your smallest fingernail is an appropriate size.

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  • Less distractions. Find a location that has minimal distractions for both you and your dog. Place the clicker in one hand and a small treat in the other hand.
  • Click and Reward. Click your clicker and treat your dog. Allow your dog to swallow their treat.  Click and treat again.  Do approximately 10-20 repetitions.
  • Reward Good Behavior. Once your dog has an understanding that a reward follows the click, wait for a specific behavior.  Sit is one of easiest for a new dog.  The moment your dog sits, click and reward (treat).
  • Repeat. After your dog gets up from the sit, walks around and sits again.  Immediately click and reward.

Stop the training “session” before your dog loses interest. How long you train really depends on the dog, some dogs have a two-minute attention span and others have a ten minute span.

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Dogs can understand that their actions cause a click and reward. Continue training with the clicker for basic commands.  You have learned how to clicker train your dog; let the fun begin! 

How to Clicker Train Your Dog: Basic Behaviors

Desired behaviors you can reinforce with clicks & rewards are as follows:

  • Keeping all their feet on the floor (no jumping)
  • Not begging
  • Learning the down position
  • Sit and stand position
  • Stay
  • Leave it (an object that is not available or not safe for your dog)
  • Touch (your palm)
  • Eye contact

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How to Clicker Train Your Dog: Dog Sports and Competition

Many dog owners and professionals use clickers for training their dog in dog sports and competitions.  After you have some experience behind you with learning the timing of the clicker, try using it to introduce a new sport.

  • Dog owners use it for participating and earning a Trick Dog Certification. Teaching your dog tricks such as “paw” or “roll-over” can be rewarded with a click and treat. 
  • Clickers can also be used in teaching the correct heel position in obedience trials.
  • One competitive activity where learning how to clicker train your dog becomes useful is teaching your dog to imprint on scent for scent work competition.
  • Dog owners who participate in dog agility, a fast-paced obstacle course, use clicker training to accurately mark the behavior they want to see in their dog.

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How to Clicker Train Your Dog
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Summarized: How to Clicker Train Your Dog

Clicker training can be rewarding for both dog and trainer (you).  Dogs like clicker training because it allows them to think and make decisions. Dog owners and trainers like clicker training due to its quick and precise timing with rewarding positive behavior.

Your dog needs to figure out what pleases you and brings them a reward.  They might offer up unwanted behavior that will not get a reward especially at the beginning of training.

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When introducing the clicker to your dog, chose a reward that they love, good food, high praise, or a toy.  Food is the easiest way to reward, however, non-food motivated dogs might prefer aptly timed praise.

One of the greatest benefits of learning how to clicker train your dog is the bond and trust that is established between canine and human.  This special bond is a reward by itself. 

Lastly, clicker training is a fun and successful way to motivate our dogs to perform good behaviors.

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