A Beginner’s Guide to Clicker Training for Dogs

You may have seen trainers or dog owners using a small device with a button on it with their dog. This simple little device is called a clicker, and it can help make the training process more effective.

Keep reading to learn more about clicker training for dogs and how you can use one to make your training sessions more effective!

What is Clicker Training for Dogs?

Dog In Clicker Training

Professionals and nonprofessionals alike have been using clickers for dog training for a while. It’s an entirely harmless and effective way to train your dog using a positive reinforcement method. And the way it works is straightforward.

When your dog does something positive like sit, you push the clicker and give them a treat when you provide the command to sit.

In this way, you can immediately signal the right behavior (like sitting) when they do it.

And by following that click sound with a treat, your dog learns to associate that sound with something positive. They know it means what they just did was right.

One of the best things about this technique is that you can use it even outside of training sessions. Whenever you notice good behavior, you can use the clicker to signal your appreciation.

And once you have made the positive link between clicker sound and reward, you don’t have to give them a treat every time they do something good.

... the clicker sound itself will act as the positive reinforcement.

How to Use a Clicker for Dog Training

Human hand holding an orange dog clicker

This method is excellent because it is elementary. It lets you react instantly to the superb behavior to learn the exact behavior that is earning your dog the reward more quickly.

Here are the seven key steps to effectively using a clicker for dog training:

1. Create a Positive Association with the Clicker

At first, you will need to have a treat ready every single time you click the clicker. It will still grab their attention even without the tidbit, but they won’t immediately recognize that it’s a good sound until they learn that it is associated with rewards. 

So always have your treats ready to give out in your pocket.

2. Use Small Treats

There are two reasons behind this. First of all, you will ideally be clicking a lot, so if you’re feeding your dog a whole strip of jerky every single time, you’re going to run out of treats fast and spend a lot more money on treats.

Secondly, you don’t want her to get filled up on treats. If she’s full, she won’t be motivated to work for more goodies.

So you want to give a small piece that lets her enjoy the taste without getting full.

Hand giving dog a treat for good behavior

3. Be Alert to Your Dog's Behavior

Clicker training is more effective; the more often you do it. Therefore, you want to be able to click every single time your dog does something good. 

If you only do it some of the time, training will be slower because your dog will think it’s more or less random.

So while training, you will need to be extra alert to what your dog is doing.

4. Push the Clicker While the Behavior is In Progress

To make sure that your dog knows what behavior she is being rewarded, signal your dog while doing it. Timing it this way will help your dog learn faster.

5. Only Click Once Per Behavior

One good behavior gets one click and one treat. If you want to give your dog extra praise, do it with words and belly rubs!

6. Click for Incomplete Actions, Too

Sometimes for more complicated actions, it’s going to take some time for your dog to learn what they need to do. But if you notice her even beginning to do it or do something in that direction, click and reward your pup. 

This will encourage them to continue in that direction. For example, if you train them to roll over, you would want to click even if all they do is lay down or roll just onto their side.

Pet Parent Using Clicker In Playtime

7. Use the Clicker When You Aren't Training

Even when your official training session is over, you should still be alert to your dog’s behavior and use the clicker to signal good behavior.

You can save the real treats for training sessions only, but you should at least be clicking even when you aren’t training.

An important thing to remember is that this is a positive reinforcement method. So never, combine the clicker with punishment.

This doesn’t mean you can’t punish bad behavior with negative reinforcement. Doing so can also be an essential part of the training process.

However, you should not use the clicker to signal bad behavior. The clicker sound should only signal good behavior.

Final Thoughts

For clicker training to be most effective, you need to use it in combination with a consistent training schedule. And you also need to find a good clicker.

All brands of clickers are very affordable, and for the most part, any of them will get the job done. So choosing the best clicker for dog training is a matter of personal preference.

Find one that fits comfortably in your hand. And, if possible, test it out and listen to the sound. Some people find the springy sound of most clickers kind of annoying. Any sound will work for your dog but keep in mind that you also have to hear it.

You can find quieter designs to your ears but still audible to your dog’s more sensitive ears. Once you’ve found the perfect clicker for you and your pup, you’ve got everything you need to get started with clicker training for dogs!

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