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Clicker Training 101

Clicker training Squeak

This started as an email to someone buying a puppy that wanted to know what clicker training is since the puppy had already been started with a clicker. I know many of you already know a what a clicker is but I get asked this enough that I know many of you don't so here's my answer to what is a clicker and how does this work.

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Clicker training 101 (abbreviated course) :-)

Principle


 
Clickers are nothing more than a little box that makes a noise. It's used as a training tool. Trainers use this noise as a marker to let an animal know a behavior is good and you - the dog - are going to get a reward for doing it. This is also training using positive reinforcement rather than the old out dated methods of "Do what I say or else" that was commonly used in training dogs. It was brought to the dog training community by Karen Pryor. She used it to trained marine mammals, primarly dolphins.


This is one type of clicker
 

How does this work?

 
1. Animal does something - as in he sits down when your trying to teach him to sit. He can do this accidentally or be lured into the position. This is called the behavior in trainer speak.

 

 
2. Trainer / owner immediately uses clicker to make noise which is called capturing the behavior in trainer language. The immediacy of this is crucial for the animal to begin to connect the dots....she clicks when I sit....she must want me to sit... if I sit I'll get my reward.

 
3. Trainer / owner tosses or gives the animal the treat immediately after clicking. Once again the timing is all important.
So...

 
behavior
click
treat
Always in this order and timing is everything.

 
Teaching them the clicker

 
How do I start with green dog / puppy ?

 
To teach a dog anything using a clicker you have to start by getting him to understand what the clicker is.

 
At home, find a place small area the dog can be confined in without distractions. I use my kitchen with a gate to keep the dog from wandering away. We have a dog door so I block that. I pick up the food /water dishes, any toys or chewies that may catch his attention and since we have crates in the kitchen I close the doors to them so they can't go in and lie down if they get bored during this initial process. Once they learn the clicker, them getting bored won't be an issue. I also only do this when other people won't be coming in and out of the kitchen distracting us. If my 11 yr. old is there she has to sit quietly and watch. She can't interact with the dog while we are doing this.
Have your treats ready. I use pieces of hotdog. Occasionally I will use cheese or pieces of chicken. Whatever you use needs to be something the dog considers very yummy. Something soft that they can swallow quickly and really want more of is best. It also needs to be small enough that you can give quite a few pieces of without filling up the dog and large enough they can hear it when it hits the floor.

 
 

 
I cut hot dogs length wise and then into pieces about the size of a nickel. For very young 8 - 10 week old puppies I may also cut those in 1/2 as well ending up with a piece equivalent to a 1/4 of a nickel.

 
When I have the dog/puppy confined in my designated training area and my treats ready I just stand in the middle of the kitchen with the clicker in one hand and a piece of hot dog in the other. I wait for the dog to have settled a bit and be interested in me. Usually they smell food and this isn't a problem.


 
I then click the clicker and toss them a piece of food. They don't have to do anything for it. I am just trying to teach them the sound and that when they hear this sound it means a treat is going right behind it. I don't say a word through out this. When they've finished the first piece I do it again. And again. And again. And again.

 
If the dog is frightened by the noise you can put the clicker in a face towel initially to dull the noise. Most dogs aren't frightened by it. And once they catch on that the noise means food they all get over it. Sometimes I'll stop and turn around or move somewhere else in the kitchen and start again.
You'll know he understands the clicker when he looks up at you for the treat to follow the sound. This usually happens very quickly.... 10 or 15 pieces of food tossed. Some dogs, depending on how food motivated they are fast....others may be harder to tell.
Usually the teaching the clicker exercise, is completed in easily under 10 min. so I go right on to teaching the sit in the same session. If after 15 min. or so I am not sure the dog has it I quit and do it again in a few hours or the next day. The majority of dogs / puppies clearly get in the first go round.

 

 

Teaching them to sit

 
The hardest part of this is having patience. You've been throwing food for free up until now. That's done and you are now upping the anti and expecting something for your tidbits.
So you just stand there and wait. They look at you quizzically waiting in anticipation for that next piece to come falling down from your hand. They can see it but nothings happening. You can see the puzzlement on their faces in their eyes as I try and process what happened to make you stop. You stand and do nothing and say nothing. They start scouring the floor to see if any stray bits are there and come back and look at you some more. Then they will walk around and eventually they come back and sit out of boredom. As soon as their bottom hits the ground click and throw a treat. It's timing so the better yours is the sooner they'll connect the dots.

 
Then you go through the whole thing again. Silently you wait until they sit again so you can click / treat again. The first few times is the hardest for me because even after all the dogs I've done this with I still think....aren't you ever just going to sit? They do. My job is to just be at ready with the clicker and treat, keep my mouth shut and pay attention so I can click when they sit.

 
I've watched so many dogs and puppies learn this and each time you can see them processing it and trying to figure it out....what do I have to do to get her to throw those yummy bits again. Most, probably 85%, get it within 10 min. but some take a little longer. I quit for the day or at least that session if they haven't gotten it in 30 min. and that includes the time it took to teach them the clicker. I will go back later in the day or the next day and repeat the sit exercise again. I've never had a dog that didn't get it by the end of the second session.

 

Introducing the command verbally

 

Obviously you need to teach them to do this using verbal commands. Wait until you know the dog is going to do this whenever he sees you with a clicker and treat in hand. At that point after the dog sits I say to them "Good Sit Fido" as I'm tossing the treat. I repeat that for a day or so and then I start the next session with "Sit Fido" before the click / treat. Eventually you'll be able to just say sit without a clicker or a treat in hand and have them do it.

This attention Squeak is giving is typical with clicker training

The beauty of this method of teaching is two fold. First they are having to process it themselves so they learn it faster and when they do learn it they don't ever forget. They aren't being pulled and pushed into a position that means nothing to them as it was with the older methods. I've had dogs take days to get "sit" when you were pushing their rear ends down while pulling their collars up and repeating sit over and over again.

The other part of teaching with a clicker that is so great is that your dog will love learning. I've shared on the obedience page of the web site about my first Tibetan, Sarah, learning the old fashion way and hating training although she learned and was very obedient. I was told by a judge at a match that Sarah won that we needed to work on her attitude about it. She had that hang dog look that said she wanted to be anywhere but there doing obedience stuff. When we switched to clicker I got just the opposite attitude. Everyone commented
on what a happy dog she was when training or competing. And she was. Today when dogs hear me training another dog with a clicker they bark and carry on because it's not them. This "I want to learn" attitude makes it fun for you both.