What's clicker training, and how do you use it?

Teaching your pooch to play by the rules can be tough, but it could be a lot easier with the literal click of a button.

You’ve recently adopted a 6-week-old puppy from the local shelter. Congrats! This puppy is all that you’ve ever wanted: fluffy, goofy, and full of love. The only downside: your furry friend is slow to train, and stubbornly disobedient. Desperate, you turn to a friend for help, who recommends clicker training. You’re interested, but you aren’t sure what it is, how it works, and if it’s effective. Say no more! We’ve got you covered with some of the basics of clicker training and a step-by-step guide to use it yourself. Before you know it, your pup will be playing by the rules in no time.

What exactly is clicker training?

Clicker training is a positive reinforcement method used to train all types of animals, including dogs. It rewards your puppy’s behavior with a short and distinct clicking sound. The “click” will let your pup know when they’re behaving properly and encourage the repetition of proper behavior in the future. Unlike other reward-based training methods, clicker training immediately signals your dog’s good behavior. The “click” sound occurs during the action, whereas the hug, for instance, follows the action. What that means is that the “click” leaves no room for confusion, clearly rewarding the intended behavior. While your doggie would much prefer a big ol’ hug, “clicks” are more effective. (And, hey, you can still throw in that hug after the click, too.)

How does it work in a nutshell?

Clicker training isn’t tough, but it does require that you follow a few steps to get your pooch used to the click-based system of positive reinforcement. To start using clicker training yourself, follow these simple tips.

  1. Teach your dog to associate clicking sounds with treats. For every click, give your tyke a treat! Make sure to keep your timing random (with 1-5 second intervals between each click), and repeat this until your pup reacts to the clicker by perking up, sticking up their ears, and searching for the treat.

    Illustration of hand clicking while training dog holding a bone

  2. Now that your pooch connects a “click” with a treat, let the training begin! When your pup sits by your side before crossing the street, click and hand out a treat. When your doggo lies down by the couch while you’re watching tv, click and hand out a treat. You get the gist – for every good behavior, “click” and reward your doggy with a treat. Since your puppy will wish for more treats, they’ll repeat the action they were doing at the time of the “click”. From then on, reinforce each behavior, and soon, your pup will be trained like a pro.

    Illustration of person sitting on couch and clicking while giving a bone to the dog

  3. Once the behavior is learned, progressively replace the “click” with a verbal cue. For instance, if you know your puppy is about to sit, say “sit”. If you know your dog is about to lay down, say “down”. Your dog will learn that if they do the trick at the time of the cue, they’ll get rewarded. Repeat this over and over again until you fully remove clicks, and fade out treats. And, that’s it folks — it’s that easy!

    Illustration of clicker training

Is it really effective?

A team of researchers from the University of Trieste tested if clicker training was the most effective way to teach dogs. Based on their findings, clicker training is neither more nor less effective than any other learning techniques (using visual cues or spoken word). That said, there are those that opt for clicker training primarily because of its efficiency (again, you’re allowing your dog to isolate the exact action that they’re being rewarded for with the click, which helps make the learning process a little faster).

At the end of the day, picking a training method that suits your lifestyle and works best for your puppy is key. If clicker training feels like the right option, follow this guide and your pup will be demonstrating model behavior in no time!

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