In this article, we will explore what clicker training is and go through the step by step guide to doing clicker training with your dog.
What is a clicker training?
It is a system of communication between you and your pet. It is a unique sound, usually a click, but can also be a specific word always said in the same way like “YES” is used as a reward.
How to clicker train in simple steps
First, you teach them that the click means - yes, that’s what I want! The first 1-3 weeks of training is about getting your dog to associate the sound of the click with positive reinforcement, so you basically just make the sounds and give them treats immediately. Remember Pavlov's cues in high school? That’s what he did - he trained them by ringing a bell when they got food. They would then experience the same positive brain chemicals when they heard the bell as they normally would when getting food. The sound of the bell became a reward in itself- that means you can reward your pet with a sound! Once they know what the click means, you can reward them for really small changes in behaviour. Get your timing right so that it is very clear what you’re asking them to do. For example, using a food reward can be distracting sometimes, and you may not be able to give them a food reward as quickly, or they may change their behaviour while they are getting that reward.
Next, start using the click as a reward with a reliable behaviour. "Sit” is usually a good one to start for most dogs. Reward with just the click about 20% of the time, and a click and treat 80% of the time, then gradually increase the click and decrease the treat over the next week. Aim for just click 80% of the time, and click and treat 20%.
After this, your pet should know that the click means “YES, do it again!”. Now, you just have to “recharge” the click with treats occasionally.
Using clicker training to teach complex behaviours
With clicker training, complex behaviours can be shaped from nothing, as you can reward your pet for getting closer and closer to the behaviour you want.
An example could be training dogs to sit and not bark when the doorbell rings:
Reinforce the sit command with the click as a reward
Get a friend to help ring the doorbell
Give them the click as a reward only when they are not actively barking and as close to a "sit" as you can get. Some dogs won’t be able to do much in the beginning, so if they won’t sit, click for not barking, even if it is just a short amount of time, then work forward from there
Reinforce the sit command with click and treats throughout the session
Make it harder for them to get the click. Wait longer for them to sit, be quiet, etc before they get the click.
Eventually, they’ll learn to sit quietly when the doorbell ring.
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