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Clicker training – where to start?

Clicker training is a positive form of classical conditioning, and one that is hard to imagine modern dog training without. The clicker works in the same way as Pavlov’s bell, it pairs a meaningless stimulus (the click) with something the dogs loves (food or a toy). We can then use this conditioned response to shape behaviour in a very specific and accurate way.

Box clickers – my personal favourites

We use the sound of the clicker to mark behaviour that we want from our dogs, and would like to see repeated. Firstly we have to pair the sound of the clicker with something yummy, otherwise the sound will mean nothing to the dog. Clicker training is especially useful when we’re training precise behaviours, or shaping a bigger behaviour by breaking it down into lots of little steps.

The rules of clicker training:

  • Click = Reward
    Always, always, always – even when we’ve clicked something by mistake
  • Really small treats
    You’ll use a lot and we don’t want to end up with an overweight dog!
  • Timing
    Practice away from your dog, have someone bounce a ball in front of you and try and click the exact moment the ball bounces. Not as easy as it sounds!
  • Setting Criteria
    Make sure you’re clear about what it is you want to achieve from a training session before you get your dog – write it down, and perhaps video a couple of sessions to see just what you’re reinforcing
  • Rate of reinforcement
    To have a willing and enthusiastic training partner, you need to be sure that you’re setting them up to be successful so that they can earn their reinforcement quickly
  • Adding a cue
    Don’t be in a hurry to name a behaviour you’re teaching – you could be labelling a lack of understanding on your dog’s part, and that will remain with the tag you’ve given it

There are a few different types of clicker:

  • Box clicker (my preference)
  • Button clicker
  • Adjustable sound clicker

Do you know someone who would benefit from reading this article? Please share!

Today I’m grateful for the fact I be working from home after a busy few days, and yet still be helping other dog lovers from the comfort of my home office! 🙂

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