Clicker training your Dog

Clicker behaviour training

One of the most popular forms of modern dog training is ‘clicker training’. Derived from the training of dolphins (where punishment is almost impossible to deliver effectively), the clicker rather than instruct the dog to perform, ‘marks’ the exact moment he exhibits the desired behaviour.

The main reason that clicker training is such a successful way of training is that the dog learns to focus on the moment he hears the click rather than the moment he receives a reward, meaning the handler is able to effectively say ‘yes’ when the dog offers even a small movement or when he is at a distance.

Training your Dog using the clicker

First you need to ‘tune’ your dog to the clicker

  • Click and treat in quick succession until he understands that the sound of the click means a food reward is about to follow.

Once your dog has been tuned to the clicker it can be used to train the dog to follow out even the most complicated behaviours. Often a lure is used to motivate the dog into the correct position or for the real purist, simply waiting for the dog to offer the behaviour of his own accord paired with the click and subsequent reward.

Method 1: Using a lure
clicker training border collie

  • Hold a treat between the thumb and first finger of the handler.
  • Allow the dog to sniff it.
  • Slowly take the treat up and back over the dog’s head.
  • As the dog’s head goes up his bottom will go down onto the floor, click and treat occurs the moment it does.
  • Repeat until reliably occurring each time.
  • Once this is occurring reliably use the command ‘Sit’ paired to the behaviour.
  • When your dog learns the verbal cue (sit) for the behaviour the Click and treat can then be phased out.

Method 2: Wait for the dog to offer the behaviour of his own accord

  • Click and reward the dog whenever he sits of his own accord.
  • Your dog will soon learn that this is a rewarding behaviour and will sit more often.
  • Introduces the command ‘Sit’ whenever the behaviour is offered followed by the click and treat.
  • After a few repetitions the verbal cue (sit) will induce the desired behaviour and the dog receives his click and treat.
  • Once the sit is reliably offered on cue, the click and treat can be phased out.

Putting the behaviour ‘on cue’

One of the most common misconceptions about clicker training is that owners have to use the clicker for evermore and the dog only performs when the owner has food. To the contrary, the effective clicker trainer soon puts any behaviour on cue and then rewards the behaviour only when it is asked for. Similarly food rewards tend to be easier to phase out as the dog is more confident in his actions and not fearful of receiving a punishment should he fail to respond. The worst punishment the dog ever receives is removal of the reward if he does not perform.

Dr Roger Mugford, The Company of Animals

If you are concerned that your dog is behaving strangely or having a funny turn please use the Dog symptom guide to find out if you need to call the vets.

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