Clicker training a puppy might seem to be a daunting training technique, but it’s not nearly as hard as you might think. Using a clicker device is actually a fairly easy form of positive reinforcement training once you get into it. In fact, you might be amazed at just how quickly you’ll be able to get your pup to perform the desired behavior you want.
So, how do you go about starting to clicker train your pup? Here’s a look at the basics of clicker training and some puppy training tips to help you get started.
What Is Clicker Training?
You’ve probably heard of clicker training before. As the name implies, it’s a way to get a puppy to perform a certain behavior by using a small mechanical device.
The philosophy behind clicker training is that a dog will be more likely to perform correct behavior if there’s some sort of reward attached to it. The dog will associate the click sound with something good and will do what you want them to do. You’re not dwelling on what your puppy does wrong, but rather focusing on what they do right.1
Pushing the button on the clicker device marks the exact moment when your pup does what they’re supposed to do. Once you click, then you provide a reward, such as a small treat. You use a marker word, such as “sit,” to reinforce the behavior you want. As soon as the dog sits after your verbal marker, you click and then provide the food reward.2
It’s important to note that while clicker training is a good tool, it’s by no means a necessity. You might prefer another training method. Your veterinarian or a local trainer can tell you about other training methods that are just as effective.
How To Succeed At Clicker Training
There’s really nothing magical about the clicker itself. You don’t even necessarily have to use a noisemaker. You could whistle or snap your fingers instead. The point of the clicker is that it’s a unique sound – one your dog typically doesn’t hear. Because it stands out so much, your pup will immediately associate the clicking sound with a coming reward.
No matter what type of sound you prefer to use, it really won’t mean anything unless some sort of reward comes after that sound. Also, the reward doesn’t have to be food. If your dog would enjoy a game of tug or some love more than a treat, you can do that instead.
The most important part of the training, whether it’s clicker training, house training, or anything else, is to be consistent and timely. The distinct sound – whatever it is – needs to come at the specific moment the dog did what you wanted them to do.3
It’s important to remember that clicker training won’t be automatic. Your pup is going to do a lot of things wrong before they get them right. When they finally “get it,” that’s when you make the click and provide the reward. That way, the pup will know exactly what action is the right one, and that desirable behavior will lead to the reward.
How to Get Started With Clicker Training
Assuming you’re going to be using a clicker, the first thing you’ll want to do is get your puppy used to the handheld device before you jump right into a training session. Keep the clicker in one hand and some treats in the other. Click the device, and then give a treat. Do this a few times, and your pup should start to understand that the click means something good is coming. Once your pup catches on, it’s time to start training for a specific behavior.4
A Step-By-Step Guide To Clicker Training Your Pup
So, now that you know the basics of clicker training, it’s time to put that knowledge to use. Here’s a quick look at how to do just that.
Step 1 – You’re going to be showing your dog a way to act known as shaping. This basically means that, in a way, you’re teaching your pup that they can make you click and give a reward when they do something you want them to do.
A good way to start shaping is by trying the “targeting” method. Grab an object – anything you can easily hold in one hand. This is the target. Put the object and the clicker behind your back. Now hold the target out. If your pup makes a move toward the target, such as sniffing it or even flicking their ears, click immediately and give a treat. Do this about 10 times.5
Step 2 – Make the targeting a little more challenging. Move the target to a different position, such as on the floor or on a chair. Once your pup touches the target, click and give a treat. Do this as long as the dog stays interested. Once they stop, it’s time to stop the training session.6
Step 3 – This is where you start rewarding your puppy for doing something you want them to, such as sitting or coming to you when you call. When they do, you immediately click and give a treat. You’re telling them they just did something really good. They’ll likely want to repeat the behavior because they’re getting a reward for it. For example, when you say “come” and they make a move toward you, click and give a treat – even if they only take a couple of steps. Keep doing this until they come to you all the way.7
Step 4 – You can start adding new behaviors to your clicker training once your dog masters the first one. Clicker training can be used to encourage specific behaviors, like your pup giving you a high five with their paw. Just keep it to one behavior at a time so things don’t get too confusing. Keep training short and fun – you don’t want to wear your puppy out.8
The Benefits Of Clicker Training Your Dog
There are a lot of good reasons to try clicker behavior. Here are just a few.
- Clicker training can quickly show your dog the correct behavior.
- It may increase your puppy’s ability to focus.
- A puppy clicker can help get your dog interested in trying new tricks.9
Probably the biggest added benefit of clicker training is that it will help your puppy build confidence.10 They’ll know they’re doing something right, and that will make them even more eager to do what you want. This could help the rest of your training go a lot faster – and a lot easier.
How Long Should Clicker Training Last?
You might be wondering if you’ll need to keep your clicker training going as long as you have your pet. Don’t worry, you won’t. Eventually, you can “fade out” the clicker and use only the marker word. Your pup will continue to associate the word with the right behavior. Eventually, you won’t have to give any treats, either. Offering praise and a lot of love will be more than enough.11
As with any sort of training, always be patient with your puppy. Never yell at them when they make a mistake because that will only make them scared of you. It should also go without saying that you should never, ever strike your puppy for any reason.
If you’re having issues with your dog’s behavior, talk to your veterinarian. They can recommend a professional trainer or a behavioral specialist.