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How to Clicker Train a Dog

May 05, 2021 4 min read
australian shepherd with a clicker

Clicker training is a method of training your dog by using positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement training ignores a dog’s bad behavior and focuses on rewarding them for their good behavior with treats and praise. In this guide, we’ll explain what clicker training is and how to clicker train your dog.

What Is Clicker Training?

While you can practice positive reinforcement without a clicker, clicker training adds an extra element to the training that makes the commands stick in your dog’s mind better. Instead of simply giving them a dog chew when they obey a command, you click the clicker right before giving them the treat. Over time, this creates an association between the clicking sounds and receiving the threat. Thus, the click acts as a signal to your dog to let them know that their behavior is good.

By establishing a positive correlation between hearing a clicking sound and getting a reward, your dog will learn that when they hear a clicker it means they're doing something good. This extra positive reinforcement will help your dog establish good behavior patterns and obedience and may be more effective than just using treats alone.

If you’re wondering what a clicker is, it’s a small mechanical noisemaker. They are cheap to buy at pet stores, so you can easily pick one up to see if it works well for your dog. You can even be your own clicker by making a distinctive noise, such as whistling or snapping your fingers, that you don’t make outside of your training sessions. However, most people find it more convenient to use an actual clicker.

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How to Get Started with Clicker Training

Introducing the clicker outside can be distracting if there are other dogs, cars, or sounds. Instead, find a quiet area in your home where it will be easy to concentrate. Shut off the TV, remove other distractions, and have your dog sit quietly next to you.

Once you are both ready, click the clicker once and immediately give your dog a treat. Don’t point the clicker at them or make the sound too close to their ears. It might upset them. Repeat this step a few times until it's clear that when your dog hears the sound, they should expect a treat. Usually, it takes 10-20 repetitions to get to this point, so you might want to use healthy treats or break your treats into pieces to avoid overfeeding your dog.

Once your dog looks to you for a treat when they hear the clicker sound, you’ve successfully established a positive connection. Now, you can use your clicker to teach them new things.

staffordshire bull terrier with a clicker

How to Clicker Train Your Dog

Now that you’ve established a positive association with the clicker, test out teaching your dog a simple command, such as “sit” or “lie down.” Position yourself and give the command to your dog. If they perform even part of the desired behavior, press the clicker and give them the treat. The point isn’t to have them do the trick correctly the first time but to slowly coax them into this.

After rewarding your dog for the first time, repeat the same command again, but hold out on using the clicker until they make it further than they did the last time. This process is called “shaping,” and is a way to slowly teach your dog something step-by-step until they master the whole trick.

Once your dog has learned the first command of your choosing, start experimenting with other tricks. Make sure to take things slow and only teach your dog one trick at a time or they may get confused.

After your dog gets comfortable with the clicker, you can start substituting affection or pets instead of treats. Remember to keep using the clicker, however, since they will have established an association between the clicking sound and being rewarded for good behavior.

welsh corgi pembroke dog giving paw with a clicker

Other Tips and Tricks for Clicker Training

Follow these tips to get the most out of clicker training your dog:

  • If your dog is not responsive to clickers or is overly sensitive to the sound, you can try clapping or saying “YES” instead.
  • Reward your dog within a couple of seconds of pressing the clicker. If you wait too long, your dog may not establish the correlation between the two, so the speed is essential.
  • Use treats that are healthy and easy to eat since your dog will be eating a lot of them when you begin. Save long-lasting treats such as dog bones and bully sticks for dogs for later.
  • If you click the clicker, you need to reward your dog with a treat, even if it was an accident. It's important that you establish a relationship between the clicker and a reward; otherwise, you will undermine the whole point of clicker training.

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Not sure what treats will work best for clicker training? Consider getting our dog treat sample box to introduce your dog to their new favorite treat.

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