Clicker Training for Dogs

When it comes to training your dog, you may be overwhelmed by the number of methods you have to choose from. One of the most effective and easy-to-use methods of dog training in use today is clicker training, an operant conditioning method originally developed by Marian Bailey and Keller Breland.

What is clicker training?

Clicker training utilises positive reinforcement along with the use of a clicker to teach dogs to associate certain behaviours with praise or reward. The success of this method over other similar methods is often attributed to the use of the clicker which helps the dog to immediately identify the behaviour for which he is being rewarded.

If you are looking for a method of dog training that you can use yourself, clicker training may be just the thing you need.

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How and why it works

Operant conditioning is a reward-based training system developed by behaviourist B.F. Skinner in the mid-1900's. Skinner believed that praise and reward were more effective motivators for training than punishment, and this is the principle on which clicker training is founded.

When the dog performs the desired behaviour, he is immediately praised and rewarded in order to encourage the repetition of this behaviour. The clicker serves as a "conditioned reinforcer" or "bridge" - it is used to help the dog identify the behaviour for which he is being rewarded so he can more quickly learn to associate that particular behaviour with the reward.

During clicker training, the trainer asks the dog to perform a certain behaviour and uses the clicker as soon as the dog responds correctly before giving him the reward.

Uses for clicker training

Theoretically, clicker training can be used to teach your dog any behaviour that can be identified and repeated. The best use for clicker training, however, is to teach your dog to respond to basic commands like "sit", "stay" and "come". These behaviours can be associated with a simple command phrase and can easily be identified for your dog through the use of the clicker.

If you cannot use the clicker to single out a particular behaviour, your dog could become confused and may not learn to associate the correct behaviour with the reward. Clicker training can also be used to encourage the repetition of behaviours your dog performs naturally. For example, if your dog loves to play fetch with a ball you can utilise the clicker training method to teach him to fetch any item you throw.

How to use clicker training

In order to utilise the clicker training method yourself, you first need to select a basic command you want to teach your dog - "sit" and "come" are both good options to start with. Begin by moving your dog into a quiet area where he will not be distracted and be sure to have plenty of treats as well as your clicker on-hand.

You will first need to teach your dog to respond to the clicker by pressing the clicker and immediately giving your dog a treat. Repeat this five to ten times or until your dog responds by giving you his full attention at the sound of the clicker.

The next step in clicker training is to teach your dog to respond to a command or cue. Select a basic command phrase like "sit" or "come" that you want your dog to respond to with a certain behaviour. Use the phrase in a firm voice and, if necessary, guide your dog to perform the behaviour. For example, if you are teaching your dog to sit you might gently push his bottom to the floor.

As soon as your dog performs the desired behaviour, click the clicker and give him a treat! The use of the clicker will help your dog to associate the behaviour preceding the click with the resulting reward. Repeat this process many times, using the command phrase on each occasion and rewarding your dog every time he performs appropriately.

Over time, you should stop using the clicker so your dog will learn to respond to the command phrase alone. The amount of time it takes your dog to learn the desired behaviour may vary depending on the complexity of the behaviour and the amount of time you dedicate to training.

The key to success with any training method is consistency - the more consistent you are in using the clicker and rewarding your dog for the desired behaviour, the more quickly he will learn to respond.