Clicker training is based on Positive Reinforcement. This means you reward the good behaviour instead of punishing the bad behaviour. Animals learn what they should do much quicker with reward-based training instead of punishment- based training. You can train your dog, cat, bird, or any animal of any age! Did you know that zoos use clicker training to teach the animals how to be handled and accept treatments, examinations and medications?
What is a clicker?
A clicker is a “noisemaker” that makes a two-toned click sound. This is to signal that your pet is getting rewarded for a behaviour that you want it to perform.
How to start clicker training:
As with any training regimen it is ideal to do short training sessions instead of one long one. Much more is learned from three 5-15 minute sessions versus a 1 hour session. You can get dramatic results and teach your pet many new things by fitting a few clicks into your daily routine (for example; before meals or while on a walk)!
1. Get your pet used to the sound of the clicker.
- The first time you use the clicker make sure it is used during a calm moment like when watching TV or reading a book.
- Grab a handful of treats so they are easily accessible to you. Make the click sound & when your pet responds (looks at you) give the treat. Repeat this action 5- 10 times in a row and stop. Wait anywhere from 1-5 minutes and repeat for a total of 15 minutes.
- PLEASE NOTE: Use an extra tasty treat when you are first using the clicker (not your pets normal kibbles unless they have dietary issues like allergies). Instead try a small piece of beef liver or dehydrated/ boiled chicken. PLEASE remember that it is NOT the size of the treat that your pet gets, it is just the taste of something extra delicious and not given on a regular basis. We don’t want to make our pets obese in the process of training!
2. Once your pet is consistently excited and waiting for the treat after making the “click” sound you can start using the clicker to train commands like sit, come, stay, or down.
- You do not need to use extra tasty treats for the rest of the training. The tasty treats are to make your pet more excited for the clicker
3. When using the clicker, the timing of the clicker is CRUCIAL. The “click” should be made DURING the behaviour that is being performed.
- You can practice your “clicker timing” by having someone bounce a ball and trying to make the “click” at the same time the ball hits the ground.
- Ex: When teaching a sit command, you “click” when the bum is just about to touch the ground; “Fluffy” is in the process of sitting, you click just as the bum is about to touch the floor, then; “Good Sit! And give the treat while giving praise when the bum is on the floor.
- You should not need to repeat the command over and over again. If your pet is excited and jumping for the treat and you have already given the “sit” command just ignore your pet and look/turn away from the jumping/excitement until he/she sits on their own. Then click & reward!
4. If training your pet out of a bad habit; for example training to not bark in the crate/ room;
- Whenever “Fluffy” stops barking then click and reward the quiet behaviour. When you tell Fluffy to “Be Quiet” and “stop barking!” Even though you are saying it as a punishment, you are still rewarding your pet with attention; therefore Fluffy learns that when I bark, my people will come talk to me!
5. You can use the clicker to add commands to your pet’s normal behaviour like “lie down” or “bed”. This is known as “Capturing”
- Whenever your pet goes to lie down on their own you can click and say the command that you want to use. Think of when you are taking a photograph. You “click” or take the picture of the behaviour you want your pet to perform.
Here is an example of using Clicker Training to assist with a nasty habit. Hoover is a four year old Schnauzer who felt he was the “King of the Street”. Whenever another dog walked towards Hoover he would bark ferociously and continue to bark inappropriately as long as the dog was in sight. Needless to say, this made walking him difficult and uncomfortable.
During Clicker Training, the owner first got Hoover used to the clicker in the home, as above. Next, on the street, without another dog in sight, the owner would continue to reinforce the clicker. Then, when walking, the owner watched carefully for another dog, and watched Hoover’s reactions. As soon as Hoover noticed another dog in the distance (but before he started barking), the owner would distract Hoover with the clicker and the treat (by making him performed desired action like sit or down). Then they would change direction and walk away so that Hoover would be praised for mastering being quiet. Day after day the owner would work with Hoover getting closer and closer to another dog and praising the good behaviour until Hoover could finally walk by without barking excessively.
Good luck with Clicker Training and enjoying good behaviour from your pet!