Puppy and owner practicing clicker training

Key takeaway

Clicker training is a type of positive reinforcement training that uses a clicker to mark good dog behavior. Clicker training may facilitate learning in dogs by helping them understand the precise behavior they get rewarded for. It can also help strengthen the bond between humans and their pets while reducing anxiety in dogs.

Positive reinforcement training is a rewards-based dog training method that can help teach your dog different behaviors and tricks. Dogs repeat behaviors they're rewarded for, so if you give your dog a treat every time they obey a basic command, they're more likely to perform the desired action every time. Clicker training for dogs is a type of positive reinforcement training that can mark certain behaviors with a click, making training more efficient and effective.

Ultimately, pet parents can click as soon as their dog performs the desired behavior to let their dogs know exactly what they did to earn a reward. Of course, after you click, you must give your dog a treat for the training to be effective. Clicker training has been proven effective for everything from simple tricks to behavior modification.

You can teach your dog any behavior with a dog training clicker and delectable treats. For example, if you don't like your dog barking at your neighbors, you can train your dog to stop barking. If you want to find an easier way to train your dog, you've come to the right place. This article will discuss clicker training dogs, its benefits, and tips for doing it right.

Graphic listing definition of clicker training

What Is Clicker Training?

Clicker training is a type of obedience training that uses positive reinforcement to reinforce good dog behavior. It's a type of mark and reward training introduced by Karen and Gary Wilkes in the early 1990s.1

Clicker training uses a dog training clicker that allows pet parents and trainers to mark behavior to let the dog know what they did to receive a treat.3 Ultimately, marking the behavior is more effective than reaching for a treat once your dog does the trick because it allows you to tell them the precise moment they did something right. For example, when teaching your dog to stop jumping on guests, you can click the moment your dog sees a guest and doesn't jump on them and then give them a treat.

The dog training clicker creates an audible sound to help owners mark good behaviors. Unfortunately, we're still learning a lot about dog training, so more research is needed to determine whether dog clicker training is truly more effective than any other method.2

For dog clicker training to work, your dog must understand what a click means. If you use the clicker and don't reward after, your dog won't understand that you're telling them they've done something right. Many people train their dog to understand other sounds, along with a clicker, to help mark behavior because you may not always have a clicker nearby when you want to reward your dog. Instead, you may choose to say "Yes," or snap your fingers to mark good behavior.3

Clicker training is effective with everything from basic dog commands to teaching your dog new behaviors, such as teaching your dog not to bark at strangers.

What's The Point Of Clicker Training?

Clicker training aims to teach dogs new behaviors and commands by marking the precise moment they perform them. Ultimately, it lets dogs know and understand what they did to earn a treat, making them more willing and able to continue the behavior. As a result, clicker training may be a more effective way to train dogs because it facilitates learning; the dog isn't left guessing what they did to earn a treat.

For example, when training your dog to sit, you must make it clear you're rewarding them for putting their bottom on the ground. During this training, your dog must understand that they're being rewarded for sitting. However, if the dog gets up after sitting and is treated after the fact, they might not understand the precise reason they're getting the reward. However, when you can make the behavior with a clicker, they'll eventually understand that the clicker means they achieved the desired behavior and will be rewarded.3

Remember, dogs live more in the moment than humans, so if your dog sits after a command and you get up to give them a treat, and they follow, they won't fully understand what they're being rewarded for. Additionally, you only have a few seconds to reward your dog's behavior, or they might not understand what behavior got them a treat. Therefore, clicker training is a great way to mark behaviors quickly to help your dog learn what they've done right, making them more likely to repeat those behaviors to earn treats in the future.

Clicker training also helps pet parents train their dogs from a distance or behaviors that happen quickly.3 For example, if you're training your dog to stop barking at strangers out of a window in your home, you must be fast and click immediately when your dog doesn't bark. If you're busy and your dog starts barking out of the window, you may get up to give them a treat for when they're quiet, but it can confuse a dog, and they may think they're getting a treat for barking instead of not barking. Ultimately, positive reinforcement, when done correctly, can solve many behavior problems. However, if you're not marking the good behaviors, you could accidentally be reinforcing the bad ones.

You may think you could use praise as soon as your dog responds correctly. For example, when your dog sits, you might call them a good boy or girl as soon as their bottoms hit the floor. However, praise isn't always clear to dogs because we praise our dogs constantly, and sometimes we praise them when they're doing nothing at all.3

Graphic listing the benefits of clicker training

Clicker training provides dogs with clarity to help them learn the correct behaviors, but there are many other benefits to clicker training for your dog. Including:

  • Physical activity: Training isn't the same as running in the park, but it does involve physical activity, allowing your dog to burn a few more calories each day, which can help them feel more relaxed at night.
  • Mental stimulation: One of the most significant benefits of clicker training is that it provides your dogs with mental stimulation. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical activity because it prevents anxiety in dogs by giving them an activity to focus on. Additionally, clicker training can be used for behavior modification to help anxious dogs cope with stressful situations.
  • Bonding: Clicker training can improve your bond with your pet. Dogs like to learn, so training can be a fun activity for you both that also teaches your dog the behaviors that make you happy.

How To Clicker Train

Clicker training sounds complex because you must use a specific tool. However, you really only need a clicker for dog training and some delectable treats. Here are some tips to help you clicker train your dog:

1. Keep Treats Small

Clicker training involves a lot of repetition. First, you must teach your dog what the click means, which takes practice. To help your dog understand the meaning of a click, you can play a game with them by clicking and then giving them a treat over and over. This game is called "loading the clicker." 3 If your dog already knows a basic command, you can start by telling them to perform the command and click, then treat them as soon as they do it.

Additionally, when using clicker training to teach dogs new behaviors and commands, you must use repetition. Dogs learn best this way, which means you'll be handing over a ton of treats. Depending on what you use to treat your dog, you can cut their treats into smaller pieces to ensure they're not eating too many treats during training sessions.

At first, you may have to use the best treats you can find, including cheese or other safe human foods your dog loves. The more delicious the treat, the easier it will be to keep your dog focused on the task.

2. Click During Behavior

The timing of the click is crucial because it's meant to mark your dog's behavior. Clicking after the behavior has been completed, and your dog is focused on something else will make clicker training ineffective. The timing of the treat is less important, so don't worry if you have to reach into a bag to give your dog a treat. However, you should try to give your dog the treat quickly enough to help them understand they're being rewarded for a specific behavior.

3. Keep Sessions Short

Dogs are great learners, but they have their limits. If you notice your dog becoming unfocused during the training session, they may be tired of training for the day. Ultimately, you can keep sessions around five minutes each multiple times daily.

4. Stay Consistent

Not only should sessions be short, but they should be consistent. Set aside time each day to work with your dog to get faster results. If you can, try to have sessions more than once per day. Don't worry if you can't work with your dog multiple times daily, though. As long as you remain consistent and continue to work with your pet on the desired behavior, they'll eventually learn.

5. Only Click For Good Behavior

Clicker dog training is used to promote good behavior, not promote undesirable behavior or destructive traits. For example, if you're training a puppy, you'll take your clicker outside with you and click when they go potty outside instead of inside. Additionally, you can teach older dogs to stop jumping on guests by clicking when their paws are on the floor.

Depending on what you're trying to teach your dog, you may need to keep clicking and treating during the duration of the behavior. For example, if you're trying to train your dog not to bark at strangers passing by, you might need to keep clicking and treating while your dog looks at them from the window.

Tips for clicker training

6. Coax Your Dog

Depending on the type of command you're trying to teach, you may have to lure your dog.3 For example, if you're training your dog to come when called, you might have to show them a treat to get them to walk towards you.

No matter the reason they start walking towards you, whether it's of their own voluntary movement or they're being lured, click them as soon as they start making an effort towards you. You also shouldn't wait for the entire behavior to be completed when first teaching a new skill. Clicking and treating for small movements towards the goal behavior can help your dog slowly learn what's expected of them.5

7. Use Cues

Cues are important for helping your dog learn commands. For example, you can use hand signals to help your dog understand your words. For example, if you want your dog to sit, you might point to the ground while saying the command. Clicker training can also help you teach your dog cues. For example, if your dog has learned the word sit and starts sitting voluntarily, you can stay "sit" after they've performed the command to try to teach them what they've done.

8. Carry a Clicker

Wherever you go, whatever you're doing, it's always best to have a clicker and treats on you to help you continuously mark good behavior. Of course, you're not expected to catch every good behavior you see, but being prepared to mark and reward can help your dog learn faster.

9. Never Scold

Clicker training is positive reinforcement training and doesn't involve using aversive methods that can scare dogs or make stressed dogs even more anxious. While it might be frustrating to have a language barrier between you and your dog, it's important to never scold them. Instead, training should be a positive experience for your pet. The happier they are training, the more likely they will learn new commands and behaviors.

10. Practice Outside

As we've mentioned, you should keep your training sessions short. However, you should also practice in different environments. The outside world has many distractions for your pet. Their noses are so strong that they can smell a blade of grass in ways you can't. Dogs use their noses to learn about their world, so it might not be easy to teach them new commands outside when there's so much going on around them. Instead, it's best to practice inside at first.

Once your dog has mastered the behavior, you can take them outside so they can learn it there too. Don't be surprised if your dog regresses when you take them outside; it's very common for dogs to get distracted and have difficulty learning in a new environment.

How Long Do You Use A Clicker For Dog Training?

A dog training clicker is only a tool, so eventually, your dog will no longer need it.3 However, it's important to keep sessions short when your dog is still learning the desired behaviors. Every dog is different, so you can experiment with different training session lengths to determine which works best for your dog and your schedule.

Once your dog has learned the basic commands and skills, you can start using clicker training for more complicated behaviors. For example, you can teach your dog to come when called from a greater distance or teach them how to properly walk on a leash.

When training your dog on more complicated behaviors, break it down into steps for them.4 For example, if you're teaching your dog to walk on a leash, you can start indoors and click every time they don't try to pull you. Of course, you can also use luring when teaching your dog new behaviors to help them learn what they should be doing. For example, if you want your dog to walk on your left side without pulling, you may need to use a treat to get them there or slap your leg to show them where to go.

How long you use a clicker for dog training depends on what you're teaching your dog. After your dog has learned a command or skill through clicker training, they eventually won't need it anymore for that particular behavior. However, many pet parents use clickers throughout their dogs' training journey and from puppyhood to adulthood. So if you continue to teach your dog new behaviors after they've learned the basic commands, you'll use a clicker for a long time.

The best part about positive reinforcement and clicker training is that you can teach dogs of any age new behaviors, so you might want to keep your clicker around just in case you need to teach your senior dog new behaviors later in life.

Clicker Training Dogs: FAQs

Is a clicker good for dog training?

Clicker dog training is an effective way to teach your dog desired behaviors. The process of clicker training dogs has a learning curve because not only are you giving your dog positive reinforcement after performing the desired behavior, but you must use a clicker during the behavior to help your dog understand what they did right. Clicker training marks behaviors to help your dog learn faster and easier.

What age should you start clicker training?

You can start clicker training at any age. However, it's best to start training puppies as soon as possible. While puppies learn quickly, any dog can learn new behaviors with clicker training. However, we recommend training as soon as you can to teach your dog good behaviors early on, which can help prevent them from forming negative behaviors you'll have to train away. Ultimately, it's easier to teach your dog good behavior than it is to teach them not to do bad behavior that may have accidentally been reinforced throughout their lives.

How do I start clicker training my dog?

Anyone can start clicker training their dog; all you need is a clicker, treats, and your dog. When first teaching your dog what a click means, try clicking and then giving them a treat repetitively until they are fully focused. This technique, often called "loading the clicker," can help your dog learn that they get a reward after hearing the click. It's also a great way to help your dog get ready for training. In addition, since you just gave them treats, they'll be more willing to follow you around or look at you.

Can you use a clicker without treats?

It's recommended to use treats with a clicker because treats can help incentivize your pet. However, eventually, when your dog is fluent in the behavior you can start to click and treat only the best attempts at the behavior, rather than every time when you first start training.

However, some dogs aren't motivated, so they might respond better to verbal affirmations, toys, or play. Most dogs are motivated by food, though. So if your dog's regular treats aren't doing the trick, you might have to use some safe human foods, such as turkey, cheese, or even cut-up hotdogs.

Dog performing sit up trick in park

Final Notes

Clicker training dogs is a great way for pet parents to begin teaching their dogs good behaviors while training out the not-so-desirable ones. Unlike aversive training methods, clicker training uses positive reinforcement to help dogs learn and stay motivated to obey. Not only can clicker training help pet parents teach their pets good behaviors, but it also benefits pets. Clicker training can be used to help modify pet behavior to reduce anxiety and improve quality of life.

Unfortunately, some dogs need a little extra help when it comes to behavior training. If your dog suffers from anxiety or constantly barks at strangers and dogs on a walk, a Dutch vet behaviorist can help. With a Dutch vet, you can uncover the reasons for your dog's behavioral problems and treat those to ensure your dog is happy and healthy. Dutch simplifies telemedicine for pets by finding the right medication for anxious dogs to help them learn and better respond to clicker training.

References

  1. “Who Started Clicker Training for Dogs?” Who Started Clicker Training for Dogs? | Karen Pryor Clicker Training, https://www.clickertraining.com/node/2014#:~:text=Rather%2C%20it%20is%20a%20popular,seminars%20in%201992%20and%201993.

  2. Feng, Lynna C., et al. “How Clicker Training Works: Comparing Reinforcing, Marking, and Bridging Hypotheses.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Elsevier, 19 May 2016, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168159116301393.

  3. Stephanie Gibeault, MSc. “Clicker Training: Learn about Mark & Reward Dog Training Using Clickers.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 14 Dec. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/clicker-training-your-dog-mark-and-reward/.

  4. “Clicker Training Your Dog.” PDSA, https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pet-help-and-advice/looking-after-your-pet/puppies-dogs/clicker-training.

  5. “Fifteen Tips for Getting Started with the Clicker.” Fifteen Tips for Getting Started with the Clicker | Karen Pryor Clicker Training, 12 June 2013, https://www.clickertraining.com/15tips.