Clicker training is a way to tell your dog when they’re doing a good job. With just a clicker and some treats, you can teach your dog new tricks and establish a positive response to good behavior.
What is clicker training?
Clicker training is a method of training your dog by using positive reinforcement. As you may have seen through potty training a dog or teaching them tricks, behavior that is rewarded will continue to happen. Just like people, dogs like rewards and like to hear when they do a good job. In clicker training, the “click” sound (followed by a treat) acts as a signal to your dog to let them know that their behavior is good.
By establishing a positive correlation between hearing a clicking sound and getting a reward, your dog will learn that when they hear a clicker it means they're doing something good. This positive reinforcement will help your dog establish good behavior patterns and obedience.
How to start clicker training
- Buy a clicker—or a few! It may be helpful to keep some around your house so you always have one on hand
- Find a quiet area in your home where it will be easy to concentrate. Introducing the clicker outside can be distracting if there are other dogs, cars, or sounds. Take your dog to this quiet area and have them sit next to you.
- Click the clicker once and immediately give them a treat. Don’t point the clicker at them or make the sound too close to their ears; it might upset them. Repeat this step a few times until it's clear that when your dog hears the sound, they expect a treat. You might want to use healthy treats or break your treats into pieces, because this may take a while!
- If your dog looks to you for a treat when they hear the clicker sound, you’ve successfully established a positive connection. Now you can use your clicker to teach them new things.
Using a clicker to teach your dog a new trick
- Now that you’ve established a positive association with the clicker, test out teaching your dog something simple like teaching them to “come” to you. Position yourself and say “come” to your dog. If they move even two steps in your direction, press the clicker and give them the treat. The point isn’t to have them do the trick correctly the first time, but to slowly coax them into this.
- After rewarding your dog for the first time, repeat the same motion again. Your dog may think moving a few steps will be enough for a treat but hold out on using the clicker until they make it further than they did the last time. This process is called “shaping,” and is a way to slowly teach your dog something step-by-step until they master the whole thing.
- Once your dog has learned “come” or another simple task of your choosing, start experimenting with other tricks. Make sure to take things slow and only teach your dog one trick at a time or they may get confused.
- Once your dog gets comfortable with the clicker, you can start substituting affection or pets instead of treats. Clicker training will make it easier to establish good patterns of behavior with your dog and teach them new tricks.
Important tips and tricks
- If your dog is not responsive to clickers or is sensitive to the sound, you can try clapping or saying “YES” instead.
- Reward your dog within 3 seconds of pressing the clicker. If you wait too long, your dog may not establish the correlation between the two.
- Use treats that are healthy and easy to eat—your dog will be eating a lot of them when you begin. Make sure you use small bits of cheese, chicken, or another treat that won’t upset their stomach.
- If you click the clicker, you MUST reward your dog with a treat – even if it was an accident. It's important that you establish a relationship between the clicker and a reward.
Psst! Clicker training can also be helpful when you’re introducing your dog to a new cat! For more pet tips and tricks, check out our blog. If you want safe, long-lasting dog treats to stock in your home, browse a selection of dog chews and bully sticks on our website.