Clicker training can be a brilliant way way of training your your dog to do new things, it is based on positive reinforcement, and will make mastering the learning enjoyable for both you and your pet. Any animal can be clicker trained, but I will focus on dogs in this article.
The clicker training method, is a technique, where your dog or puppy is rewarded for good behaviour, or to put it another way, they are rewarded for doing what you want them to do. The basic trick is to teach your pet to associate the click with doing something well, and that a treat is coming. Clicker training is easier with animals that are "food motivated", but it is very successful with all dogs.
Why use a click and not a "good boy"
Clickers are very effective at reinforcement, the click is always consistent both with multiple people training and also wont change like your voice can as your mood changes. In addition the clicker is a very fast and clear sound, that gives instant feedback before your dog has moved on to doing something else, that perhaps you don't want to reward them for.
All dogs are intelligent and will quickly learn to repeat behaviour that sees them benefit (e.g. they get a treat), they will often seek out ways to get a treat (trying every trick they know), which will make your training sessions enjoyable for both you and your dog.
As with all training, consistency is key - you must reinforce that every time they hear the click they will definitely receive a reward. So, if you ever click by mistake, make sure you reward them - it is all about associating the click with the treat!
Before you start
You will need to buy a dog training clicker, these can be purchased cheaply online, you will also need some tasty treats that your dog LOVES. A note on treats is that they should be small, (think the size of a fingernail) so they wont get fat by eating too many of them, and they can be quickly consumed so you can crack on with the rest of the training session. Fresh chicken, cheese based treats and ham will make for a very spoilt and obedient dog,
If you are doing a lot of training with treats, make sure you adjust their main diet to account for the additional calories, as some shop bought treats can be very fattening.
First you will need to find somewhere without distractions for both you and your dog, once you have done that and you have your dog's attention get her to sit next to you, and click once. Straight away you should reward them with a treat. Repeat this over and over, until your dog looks to receive a reward as soon as she hears the click. This is the fundamental basics of clicker training - associate the clicker with a reward.
Taking it further
At this point, your pet should be in love with clicker training, and be getting rewarded every time you click, now the association is established we can step it up a notch and get them to learn some new tricks.
Target training is a nice easy skill to start with, you can use a touch stick or a target mat for this, the method for both is the same.
Wait for your dog to go towards the target object, as she does click immediately and reward. With more cautious dogs, you should start by rewarding for going near to the object, and then reduce the distance slowly. When they actually touch the object they should get a lot of rewards so they know that is the best thing they could've done.
While clicker training, let the clicker do the talking, congratulatory words, such as "good boy" or "well done" can be distracting.
Keep repeating this exercise, and your dog will quickly learn to go to the target object as soon as it sees it. If you want to associate this skill with a word, now is the time to do so, this can be achieved by saying the trigger word just as they are about to touch the object, so you might say "point" or "touch" just as they reach it, and when they actually touch it, they get the click and their reward,
They say practice makes perfect, so repeat this over and over until your dog knows it well, I actually like to return to this one a lot, as it is a nice easy one to do when your dog gets bored or tired of training and you want to end on a positive.
As we discussed earlier, dogs will often try to provoke you into giving them treats, so you will often find they will go to the target object even when you haven't asked them to. This behaviour (although cute), should be ignored, no click or reward given.
Once you are confident your dog has learnt the skill, and will complete it based on your trigger word, you can start to remove the rewards and the clicks - I still reward and click once in a while to keep them on their toes in that there might be a treat in it for them at some point.
It is of course important to keep the positive reinforcement up, so even after you have reduced the clicking and the rewards, you should, still congratulate them on doing it when you want them to, but this is when you can start telling them "good boy" or "well done".
- Witness the behaviour you want
- Click in time with the behaviour