Dog Clicker Training | How to Clicker Train Your Dog

Why Dog Training Clicker? Once a dog is properly conditioned on the clicker, he will react to the clicker reflexively. He literally cannot help but respond. A clicker is definitely a powerful tool!

What is Dog Clicker Training?

The clicker is a little plastic box with a metal tongue that makes a clicking sound when pushed and released. The clicker is used to let the dog know when he has done something right. The clicking sound is of no significance to an untrained dog.

We must invest the click with a pleasurable meaning by associating it with food rewards. In order to make the click mean something to the dog, we start by clicking and then delivering a treat right after the click, again and again.

After a short while, our dogs figure out that the clicking sound always means food, and that makes dogs love the sound of the clicker.

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Once the relationship of click and treat is imbedded in our dog’s minds, we can use the click to mark any behavior we like. When I say “mark,” what I mean is that when the dog does something that we want him to do, we click the clicker to mark the behavior so the dog knows that he got it right and will be getting a treat for it—it is just a highly efficient way of saying “That’s right!” Dogs quickly learn to crave the sound of the clicker and will work hard to find ways to make you give them a click.

Best Dog Training Clickers

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The choice of what kind of clicker to use will depend on you and your dog. Clickers come in a variety of shapes and sizes and they vary in how loud they are. Most have recessed metal tongues that you need to press firmly to make the clicking sound.

There are also clickers with raised buttons on them—very helpful for people with long fingernails, arthritis, or large fingers. Some dogs are frightened or startled by the sound of the click at first.

There are many different types of clickers and not all of them make as loud a noise as the original box-type. If your dog is not comfortable even with one of the quieter clickers, wrap it up in a small towel to muffle the sound to start.

Since we will be pairing the sound of the clicker with food rewards, in no time at all the click will actually make your dog happy and content when he hears it.

Also, you can get clickers on cords that you can wear around your neck, or a clicker that is attached to a springy cord that you can wear like a bracelet. You won’t have to wear it forever, but it helps if you always have a clicker on you when you are trying to capture a new behavior.

Why You Should Use a Clicker?

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Why use a clicker at all? Say you want to teach your dog to run next to you and go through the middle of a tire suspended off the ground, like those used in agility.

It may seem obvious to you that going through the middle of the tire is the correct behavior, but it’s not obvious to your dog. He could run around it to the left, run around it to the right, go underneath it, or jump through it. Jumping through it is only one of four possibilities, and it is the most difficult one to do.

You line your dog up and move him towards the tire. He goes around it. You do nothing. He goes under it. You do nothing. He goes through it and a-hah! He hears the click (which is really shorthand for “a goodie is coming”), and he knows that jumping through the tire is what you want.

How does Clicker Training Work?

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To use an example that is more practical for most people, say you want to teach your dog to lie down on a nice fluffy dog bed in a corner while you sit on the couch and watch TV. It may seem obvious to you that the dog is supposed to go lie down on that dog bed on which you have spent so much money, but he has no idea what you want.

There are at least three other corners in the room, plus lots of comfy furniture, not to mention the thick oriental carpet under the coffee table and that nice little niche behind the armchair.

He has lots of choices and the dog bed may or may not be the most attractive one. By clicking when your dog is actually on that bed, you can communicate to him that this is where you want him to be, and that good things happen when he is in that spot.

Marker Words for Dog Training

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Could you just use a marker word like “Yes” or “Good” instead of using the clicker? Sure, but it is much less clear. The click is a completely artificial noise and has no pre-existing meaning for the dog.

Thus, once you condition your dog to understand that the click equals goodie, that sound will always and only mean that. Your voice, no matter how odd a marker word you use, will never be as clear.

No matter how skilled you are, no matter how hard you try to make your marker word sound exactly the same each time, there will always be nuances of meaning any time you say a word. This will slow down the learning process.

This is not to say that you will never use verbal markers or that you will have to train everything using a clicker. Verbal markers (such as “Yes”) are necessary, too.

Clicker vs Marker words

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You won’t always have a clicker on you and you never want to miss the opportunity to mark a desirable behavior. However, for formal training sessions when you are introducing your dog to new things, the clicker is indispensable.

Another advantage of the clicker over a spoken word is that the dog’s central nervous system can process the click many times faster than it can process a word.

A spoken word must be recognized and interpreted before the dog understands that behavior is being marked. In contrast, a click is processed almost instantaneously.

Once a dog is properly conditioned on the clicker, he will react to the clicker reflexively. He literally cannot help but respond. I don’t know anyone who has conditioned a verbal marker (such as “yes” or “good”) to such a high degree. Dog Training clicker is definitely a powerful tool!