Dog clicker training: how to do it?

The clicker training method

A clicker is a small box with a metal plate inside, when you press it, a metallic click is heard. Clicker training is a way of training whereby the animal learns to associate its own behavior with an event in the environment. In practice, it means that when the animal shows the desired behavior, it is rewarded by the owner. The animal will want to show the desired behavior more often because that will yield something positive. Undesirable behavior does not yield anything and is not punished. This makes this way of training very animal-friendly. To give an example of how this way of learning works: for example, if a dog knocks over a trash can once (bad behavior) and then finds food (positive consequence), it will show this behavior more often. On the other hand, if he does this several times without food being available (no reward for the behavior), this behavior will eventually disappear.

Teaching your dog using a clicker

Clicker training is mainly used to learn something, as soon as the animal understands the exercise well and performs it well, the clicking is reduced. With this method, not only can the dog learn new commands, but you can also work with undesirable behavior (such as pulling on a leash, running at other dogs, etc.). Originally, clicker training was mainly applied to dolphins and wild animals. Today, it is a widely used method of training dogs as well. There are even owners who use the clicker to train cats, rabbits, birds, etc.

Advantages of using a dog clicker

The clicker always gives the same sound ('click'), this is a very clear signal to the dog, often clearer than a word or sound that you make yourself. One of the main advantages of using a clicker is that you can time it accurately to the second. With a click, you can reward desired behavior exactly when the dog shows it. In training methods with, for example, only food as a reward, you are often late and you can unintentionally reward other behavior.

Click sound

Some dogs are a bit hesitant or even afraid of the sound at first, but this can often be remedied quickly by muting the sound (holding the clicker behind your back) or by using a clicker that can produce a slightly softer sound. Clickers are not suitable for classroom training because dogs will then react to the clickers of other owners. In that case, clickers with different tones can be used.

Clicker training in practice

First, the dog must learn that a click is a reward predictor. This is learned by clicking and immediately giving the dog a training snack or food. When the dog understands this, you can continue to teach certain exercises. In the beginning, there is a click (and a treat) for each correct 'start' to the exercise. The dog can be stimulated to this 'start' by means of gestures. In some cases, you simply wait until the dog spontaneously makes a start. As an example: if you want to teach the dog to stand from a sitting position, you should click (and feed) in the beginning for the minimal lifting of the hindquarters. After a number of repetitions, you will delay the click a little longer in order to ask more and more of the desired exercise from the dog. Continue in this manner until the dog has mastered the exercise perfectly. Only then will a command be linked to the exercise. When the whole exercise is properly performed on command, the clicking for it is reduced. This way, the dog will also think for itself and look for what is asked of him. For owners who use clicker training more often, a short game is sometimes also given as a reward instead of the food.
In short, clicker training is not only very effective but also a very fun way of training and working with your four-legged friend!