Just what is dog clicker training and how does it work? Do you need a clicker to train your dog?
In this article we’ll cover everything you need to know to start clicker training today.
What is Clicker Training?
Clicker training involves using a clicker as the trigger for a habit. All habits are made of 3 things:
- The Trigger
- The Habit
- The Reward
To set a habit, or teach a dog trick, you need the three things above.
The clicker is an add on to the main trigger. For instance, the trigger to sit is saying the word “sit.” When you combine that with a clicker click it helps reinforce the command with the desired behavior.
How to Do Clicker Training
Step 1 – Muffle Your Clicker
Clickers can be loud. The sound might scare your dog, especially if you use it close to them.
For beginning clicker training you should muffle the sound a bit. Use some wall hanging tack or even some gum.
You just need something with a bit of mass that will stick to the clicker metal. This will dull the sound a bit.
Scared dogs don’t make for great training sessions! Remember, their ears are much more sensitive than yours.
Step 2 – Prime the Clicker
Click, pause, then treat. That’s how you prime your clicker. You want your dog to associate the click SOUND with treat or praise.
You don’t want them to associate moving your hand as part of the click. That will confuse them. They’ll assume when you move your hand then a treat will come.
Click, pause, treat. That’s the way to prime correctly.
Repeat this at least 10 times. After 10 times your dog should understand the clicker sound. Once they hear it they will look up or otherwise expect a treat.
If that doesn’t happen try switching treats. The treat you used may not be tasty enough!
Once your dog understands the click sound then your clicker is primed. It’s time to move on to further training.
Step 3 – Use Luring for Your First Clicker Tricks
With luring you use your hand position to lure the dog into moving a certain way.
You can use this method to teach them to sit up, lie down, stand up, or even walk backwards on two legs.
Move hand, wait for you dog to move as desired (even in the smallest way), click, wait, treat.
The trick is to progress gradually. Use your hand to lure them to move the way you want. Reward them for baby steps.
An easy way to lure train is to make a plan.
Example Lure Plan – Stand Up
- Lure hand over dogs head (when they move head up, click, pause, treat)
- Lure hand higher (when they move head and almost jump or push up – click, pause, treat)
- Lure hand higher (when they sit up – click, pause, treat)
- Lure hand higher (when they sit up and raise front paws off ground, even one paw – click, pause, treat)
- Keep going step by step till they stand on their hind legs then click, pause, treat
Use pauses – lure, when they move correctly then click, wait, then treat.
It’s just like the priming stage. You must wait between the lure move and the correct behavior before clicking. Then you must wait a half sec and give the treat.
Step 4 – Use Free Shaping for Advanced Tricks (e.g. putting a hoop on a pole)
Free shaping is the process of trick training without the use of lures or targets. It requires expert timing with the clicker and lots of patience. A little bit of planning helps as well.
Just like with luring you’ll plan your progression from start to final trick move.
Example Free Shaping Plan – Dog Hugs Leg
- Stand next to dog
- Say “Hug”
- Dog lifts paw – click, pause, treat
- Dog touches leg – click, pause, treat
- Dog curls paw around leg – click, pause, treat
Free shaping is hard but you can teach some wild tricks. It’s more of a dance with your dog. You are waiting for them to take the lead and do a correct move.
They’ll have to put on their thinking caps to make it work. That can be good or bad for your dog.
It’s good because it challenges them and makes them think. This kind of work is great for your dog’s intelligence.
It’s bad because if they do enough bad behaviors they can get stressed out. They want to make you happy and get a treat.
One way to avoid issues is to break moves down into smaller and smaller chunks. Reward them as they move more and more in the right direction.
Watch the example in the video below on using free shaping to teach your dog to stand on it’s front legs. They use books to help with the slow progression.
Step 5 – Use Capturing to Reinforce Spontaneous Behaviors You Want
This is a step beyond free shaping. With capturing you wait for your dog to do a behavior you want.
They think it up. They make the first move. No cures, targets, lures, or commands from you.
When they do something you want then it’s the usual – click, pause, treat
An easy first trick for capturing is to teach eye contact. Simply stare at your dog and wait. When they look at you – click, pause, treat.