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Hey guys, Ash here. You all know by now that I’m a big proponent of clicker training. I can’t tell you how often I’ve recommended this type of training on the blog.(I’ve even talked about a major mistake that many beginners make when they use clicker training.) But as I was thinking back on articles from the past, I realized that I’ve never actually done an in-depth guide to clicker training. There’s a huge list of reasons why I really recommend clicker training, especially for owners who have never trained a dog before. But before we get into the hows and whys, let me tell you about my introduction to clicker training.
Ben, being the owner of a local puppy kindergarten program, told me to bring Gloria by to watch us work together. My training method back then was more in line with the idea of establishing myself as the alpha dog and expecting Gloria to “get it”. Ben stopped me after just a few minutes, shaking his head. “Ash,” he said, “You’re not even getting her attention.” With that revelation and just a half hour, my entire relationship with Gloria changed.
Clicker training is not, contrary to popular belief, a whole training regimen or philosophy. It’s simply a method of getting your dog’s attention, so that you can then implement a training plan. Think of the clicker as a type of of communication. It tells your dog “Hey – there’s something you need to do right now!”
The problem, as I was learning with Gloria, is that most training programs skip the most basic issue related with training – telling the dog that they need to translate a sound into an action. Imagine being a dog, and not understanding the sounds your owner is making. They start off by saying something like “Jkkdlsfj!” And you have no idea what that means, so you assume they are just making noises like they always do. If they then shout the same sound at you, and then get angry at you, do you have any idea why? Of course not! But if you hear that clicker, you immediately know that when your owner shouts the sound “Sit”, you’re supposed to translate that sound into putting your butt on the ground. And then viola! You get a snack!
Of course dogs can be trained to translate sound into action without a clicker. But the clicker has been repeatedly shown to work very well again and again, so why not use it? Scientifically, it has been proven to be the easiest way for a dog to understand that action is needed. Clicker training is even effective for cats, birds, and other pets.I’ve recommended this clicker many times on the blog, but I also have a few of these, and they’ve worked great as well.
So now that you know why I recommend clicker training, let’s get started with the “hows”. The basic technique of clicker training is to first teach your dog to associate the sound of the clicker with a treat; to click and treat during a desired behavior; and then to give your dog a sound cue for that behavior. There are three main methods for accomplishing this:
It is effective only when you can immediately use the clicker during the desired behavior. This sound is the reinforcement that gets the dog to associate the good behavior with pleasing you. These are some tips for when you first start using the clicker from square one:
I wanted to really drive home the point that the clicker isn’t a training method in itself, but a tool for a positive training technique. So here’s one fact that can show you how this tool can be translated in other ways: “clicker training” can be used with deaf dogs as well.
How? Well, you can use the same techniques with another communication tool. For example, teach your dog to associate treats with a quick on-off flash from a flashlight. (A laser pointer is not recommended because it’s too small to be seen unless the dog is watching for it.) You’ll use the light the same way that a clicker is used. Another method is to use a “hand flash”, or a hand signal, that is quickly “turned on and off”. A good example is a thumbs up. You can quickly give a thumbs up and then drop it. Use this hand signal the same way you would a clicker.
Other trainers have used a vibrating collar that gives off a quick vibration. Once again, you’ll use this vibration the same way you would a clicker. Be sure you give the vibration, the flashlight flash, the hand signal, or other type of signal, at the moment of the good behavior, and then reward with a treat.
As you can see, the point is simply to get the dog’s attention. The clicker does that, but so do many of these other tools.
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The goal of clicker training is not to have to carry it or treats around forever. Eventually, when your dog is fully trained, you won’t have to give them treats every time they follow a command – they’ll simply do it because their brain recognizes the behavior as a positive thing. So don’t worry that you’ll always have to be carrying these things around forever!
When it came to training Gloria, it took me a few months to get her on board with following commands all the time, without fail. But it would have been much longer had Ben not introduced me to this training communication tool. She needed something that let her know to pay attention, and I needed something that let me feel like I was in control. This tool accomplishes both things, and that’s why it’s so perfect in my opinion.
Since then, I’ve always used a clicker to train dogs, and I’ve always had great luck with getting my dogs to be very well behaved. This isn’t the only training method out there, but I do think it’s very well suited to both experienced trainers and new dog owners.