Try the clicker to train your dog. It works better.

My name is Jeff Millman and I am a clicker trainer. I know this sounds like the beginning of a 12-step program, but it is not. I am not ashamed of being a clicker trainer, nor do I want to change my ways.

I do want to help explain the benefits of clicker training so you too can train your dog faster and communicate better with him or her.

I am at the ClickerExpo in Chicago all weekend, so I thought I would post this to help demystify clicker training so you can explore this wonderful tool when working with your dog, and use it correctly. 

Many people, including some professional dog trainers, complicate clicker training. They make it seem like an arduous task that has to be studied until mastered, that has to be used at all times or others simply use it incorrectly.

When Used Correctly, the Clicker . . .

  • Makes a distinct noise
  • Marks either an event that the dog experiences, or a behavior that the dog performs
  • Signifies that the dog will get a treat 100% of the time he hears the 'click'
  • Improves the trainers timing
  • Increases the ability to communicate with a dog

The clicker is a communication tool. Period. Because of its association with treats, it can actually cause a dog to come running when he hears the noise, but if the clicker is used that way, your dog will be confused. It is important to note that the clicker is used to mark behaviors or events, not initiate behaviors.

Use the Clicker to Mark an Event
As I mentioned, one of the ways to use the clicker is to mark an event. Why would you want to do this, and how does it aid dog training? The clicker is very useful in helping socialize a young dog or to help an older, fearful dog become comfortable with  an event in his environment. The clicker by itself does not "magically" get a dog to love getting his nails clipped or take a bath, but if used correctly, the clicker can help a dog become comfortable with these events if he previously found them to be stressful.

Help Your Dog Become More Comfortable
As I said you can use it for socializing a young puppy or help an older dog become comfortable with an event in his environment. When I am working with my private clients, I always use the example of helping a young puppy to love a loud fire truck. When you hear a fire truck get near your house, 'click' and give your dog a wonderful treat.

What can quickly happen over time is that your puppy can learn to love fire trucks because they mean treats! You can use this strategy to help your puppy love people, noises,  or movement such as roller bladers or motorcycles - which would consist of movement and noise. Simply 'click' and treat when your puppy either sees or hears the event and then give a wonderful treat.

If your puppy is anxious and doesn't take the treat, this means that the preceding event was too much for him and you learned that you need to introduce such events more slowly.

Use the Clicker to Mark a Behavior
The other way to use the clicker is to mark a behavior. You can either ask for the behavior with a cue, or wait until your dog performs the behavior on his own and mark the behavior and give a treat. Clicking and treating behaviors that you want to happen more often is called "shaping". You can shape your dog's behavior by paying attention to behaviors that you like and periodically clicking and treating those behaviors and ignoring behaviors that you do not like.

An example of shaping behaviors is to 'click' and treat a puppy that is quiet in the crate and ignore his barking. Eventually he will learn that barking never gets him what he wants, and it benefits him to be quiet. Another example is to ignore a dog that is jumping and 'click' and treat when he is on the ground.

Think of using the clicker this way as taking a "picture" of good behavior. When your dog does something that you like or that you ask for, you will 'click' at the exact moment the behavior is performed. The treat will then follow the 'click' and this increases your dog's motivation to perform the behavior again.

Do You Have to Use the Clicker Forever?
No. Once behaviors become more reliable, you can phase out the clicker and start giving more verbal encouragement. The key is to pick and choose the really good responses (faster sit, snappier recall, etc.) to motivate your dog to improve his performance. Eventually the behaviors can remain very solid without using the clicker. 

Will I Force You to Use the Clicker?
Absolutely not. I have had clients say in the very first session that they are not interested in using the clicker. Not a problem. However, I think once you see the clicker in action you will be convinced. You also don't have to use it all the time, and different family members can have their own preference of clicker or no clicker. My job is to show you humane, effective ways to train your dog, and the clicker is just one tool to reach that goal. 

Just keep in mind that EVERY TIME you click you have to give your dog something AMAZING. If your dog likes playing tug more than anything, you might 'click' and play a short game of tug. If your dog likes treats the most, use treats.  

For more info: I just touched on the basics of this amazing tool. On my other website: I will have videos showing clicker training in action. I am currently reworking the site and plan to have it live by May 2011. Don't hold me to that, however, I have a full training schedule, 3 dogs and one toddler and one more baby on the way! Yikes. At this tim you can purchase clickers there and start having fun using this fun, positive reinforcement tool.

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