A-Z Guide On Clicker Training Basics

The beauty of clicker training for dogs is that, if done correctly, it solves the age old animal training problem that has been plaguing pet owners for centuries, which is…

You cannot train an animal, without simultaneously training that animal to recall those same emotions he felt when he first learned the behavior. It’s one of the most important laws of Obedience training.

And this isn’t unique to dogs either right?

We humans have all experienced the difference between when somebody tries to train us to do something by making us feel bad, right?  Take for example a state trooper, who wishes to train drivers to drive the speed limit on the freeways.

State troopers use PUNISHMENT and FEAR as a way to motivate us to not speed.  And if you’ve ever been pulled over, ask yourself, what emotions did you feel as those flashing lights were blinking behind you?

I bet it wasn’t a bunch of happy thoughts.

And that’s by design!

Policeman want you to fear their authority, because they are about the law, and do not care about making you feel bad for breaking that law, as long as it stops your bad behavior.

And, let’s face it, it’s a pretty effective method for changing behavior.

But it comes at an emotional cost of making the person you use punishment on like you less!

In fact, research shows that people who train their animals using punishment, or authoritative fear based techniques, reduce their dog’s loyalty to them!

Plus…

Dog’s become much more likely to develop aggression based behavior problems.

So the question is, do you want your dog to obey you out of FEAR, where he likes you less?  What if there was a way to get your dog to obey that left him actively looking for situations to please you?

The Answer Can be found If you follow a few Clicker Training Basic’s For Creating A Deeper Bond With your dog

Clicker Training Basics: How Does A Clicker Actually Work

 

The way a clicker works is very simple.

Clicker training for dogs is positive reinforcement training based on operant conditioning (remember Pavlov and his drooling dog?).  Clicker training depends on reinforcers, which may be anything the dog likes or wants i.e. food, petting, toys, play etc. presented with an appropriately timed signal in such a way that information is communicated between dog and trainer. (It’s also perfect if you have a puppy.  Because it’s not negatively based, you’ll find that a puppy will learn very quickly that the stimulus of the click means a reward is coming, which makes training your puppy as he get’s older, much easier)

For you this is a training game, but for the dog this is a fun thinking game your dog is learning to EARN his/her own treat rewards.. There is no set recipe for developing behaviors with the clicker and treats, each session with each dog will be different, you will have to learn to “wing it” and use your imagination to shape the behaviors you continue to want to see.

Clicker training is all about TIMING. positive reinforcement

Your click “marks” the behavior you want, it does not happen before or after the behavior, it comes during the behavior, and the food treat comes after the click.

You must send a signal to your dog at the exact moment your dog is doing what you want him to do. Only click once, if you click over and over the animal has no idea which click was meaningful.

A clicker in the wrong hands can be very confusing (so don’t let your kids or anyone else “play” with the clicker).

 

Getting Started

You will need:

clicker and leash and treats

—  A clicker (you can find at any quality pet store)

—  High value, soft, small (pea size or similarly small treats) tasty treats. *Large or hard treats often take too long to consume

—  A Treat Pouch (to help you more quickly give out treat rewards)

—  Your dog

—  A quiet place

Go to a quiet place and show him the treats. In the beginning of training, you should be as free from distractions as possible because you are both learning the rules of the game.

The First Task is Simple: Load the Clicker w/ Positive Reinforcement

You must teach your dog that clicking equals reward. Your dog must simply learn that the sound of the click means a delicious treat reward is on its way. Without loading the clicker, your dog has no understanding of the meaning of the sound. A clicking sound means nothing to a dog until you teach him the meaning.

That is one of the most common misconceptions I see, people think the clicker is magical and is genetically designed to have an important meaning to your dog. Nope, it can even startle or scare some dogs, until they understand it’s meaning.

Remember back to Pavlov and his dog; in the beginning of the experiment the bell prior to eating had no significance, but after several feedings the bell became a precursor to food and soon just the sound of the bell elicited drool proving that the bell equaled food to the dog.

 

The biggest misconception is that clicker training means “FOOD”. The animal is not working for food it is working for the click, the sound of the click is the signal that brings about a great performance.  After the dog has learned to understand what behavior you want, how to do it and when to do it you can replace the click with a word and the food with praise or a pat.

You will know when you have loaded the clicker well enough because your dog’s eyes will light up and he will come running when he hears the sound of it!

How To Properly Use a Training Clicker

Before we attempt to capture a behavior with your dog, I recommend that you learn how to use a clicker correctly.

Clicker’s take very precise timing, and it can take a little bit of practice before you get the feel of how to make them work.

For a great game that’ll teach you how to use the clicker, watch this video presentation I gave on stage:

Isn’t that interesting, how just the sound of a well timed click can train a behavior?  And remember, the people in that video were only told one thing “The Rule Of The Game Is To Earn Clicks”.  And that’s a rule we can teach your dog to do too, through properly loading a clicker to the sound of a click.

 

Focus On These Two Clicker Training Techniques

While there are several different clicker training techniques you can use to get your dog’s behavior to look the way you want it to, two techniques in particular are a favorite for dog trainers who’s main goal is to create the type of good dog who will obey without having to always be nagged at.

Capturing – The Ultimate Emotion Training Technique

Capturing is the act of “catching an animal in the act of a behavior we want him to do” and training him to do that behavior again on cue.

I first learned about this technique from studying marine mammal trainers work with dolphins and killer whales.  Marine mammal trainers, when in the water with huge animals that can harm them, have to rely on getting their animals to WANT to do behaviors with food treats, instead of relying on punishment based methods that FORCE them to do behaviors.  It keeps them from being eaten, or dragged to the bottom of the pool and drowned out of a whales frustration. (yes, that’s a thing!)

The great thing about this method is that dog’s do lots of things, in lots of different emotional states right?

If a dog is excited it might jump up or bark.

If it wants attention it might come to you for petting

And if it’s sleepy it might lay down, or yawn.

So by using the basic clicker training technique of capturing, we can turn the random times our dogs do behaviors like these, into mini training sessions that not only make the dog learn to do these types of behaviors again on cue, but with the side benefit of also making them feel those same emotions they felt when they first learned how to do the behavior on cue.

So if we used capturing to teach a dog to bark, and gave that cue, he would do so excitedly, whereas if we gave the cue to have the dog go lay down on his bed, he would become instantly more calm like.

Isn’t that cool!

It’s a tool dog trainers can use to get their dogs to not only do what we want, but FEEL what we want them to feel too.

Are you starting to see why this is so much better then negatively based training sessions!

 

How To Capture Your Dog’s Behavior With A Clicker

The first behavior I recommend that you capture with your dog is a command that your dog does while he’s calm.  While you can chose several of these, one of my favorites is waiting until a dog is tired, and training what I call, the ‘sleepy face’.

The ‘Sleepy Face’ is what I call a dog’s face that looks like it’s about to fall asleep.  The dog’s eyes, and facial muscles are relaxed, and it’s one of the perfect behaviors you can capture, because it can be used out in the world as a ‘calm down’ command in the future.

(it’s a great tool to have in your trainer’s toolkit for dog’s who tend to get way to excited)

Here’s a video where I demonstrate how to train this game.

To see the other 3 videos in this Clicker Training Series click here.

If you train this command, you now have the ability to put your dog in a calm state whenever you want!

Many people who bad mouth clicker training (which are usually people who like to use punishment) complain that you don’t need a clicker, and that you can just use verbal commands to train dogs; and while that is true for some commands, the more advanced type of capturing, like this, requires you to be very precise with the timing of when you click.

For the sleepy face game to be taught correctly, you have to click only during sleepy face.  The quick ‘click’ of a clicker tells the dog the instant he does it right, where as the words “good” said by a trainer, take too long.

You have to be quick and precise for this to work.  And if you are, you’ll be rewarding with pied piper like abilities for putting your dog into the emotional states you want him to be in.

How to Shape Your Dog’s Behavior With a Clicker

The second training technique that every good dog trainer knows how to do is something called Shaping. Unlike the capturing training technique that catches the dog doing exactly what we want naturally, the shaping technique teaches our dog’s do a behavior that they might not normally do, in baby steps.

Here’s the process:

Decide on a behavior you want your dog to do, like go to his bed.

Break that behavior down into small parts and write them down.

So for example, if we want our dog to go to his bed he has to first:

  1. Look at his bed
  2. Take a step towards his bed
  3. Keep walking towards bed till he’s close
  4. Actually touch his bed
  5. Touch his bed with a paw
  6. Touch his bed with two paws
  7. Touch his bed with all four paws
  8. Actually sit down on the bed
  9. Lay down on his bed
  10. Stay laying down on his bed for as long as we want

 

Most pet lovers make the mistake of thinking that behaviors like going to your bed are simple.  But do you see how it’s actually 10 completely different small steps that have to be trained?

Once you break the behaviors out into small individual steps like this, what you want to do is simply start clicking and treating your dog every time he does the first step, until he realizes that looking at the bed is what’s giving him the reward.

When you do this one of two things will happen.

  1. Your dog will automatically start walking towards the bed on accident. Or…
  2. Your dog will just stand there, and keep looking at the bed, then back at you for a reward.

 

If your dog does A, then guess what… CAPTURE it, by clicking and then giving what we call a JACKPOT reward.

I like to teach people to give JACKPOT rewards whenever a dog FINALLY figures out a step, or whenever he SKIPS a step ahead of the process on accident.  I do this because I want to really reinforce the behavior that I want the dog to do.

But if your dog doesn’t accidentally start to do what you want to do, then that’s ok.  My dog was like that too, but watch how I get around that step in this video:

And that’s how you can shape a dog’s behavior to do practically anything you want!

Now of course, after we train the animal we need to put the behavior on cue, but its soooo much easier to put behaviors on cue once the animal already knows the behavior.

For a bunch of tips and tricks for how to take a trained behavior and put it on cue, check out our program that goes into clicker training basics here.

The Benefits of Shaping the “Go To Bed” command

When shaping, I highly recommend that the first behavior you teach your dog is the go to bed command, and I believe this for a very strong reason.

What I have noticed over the last two decades of training animals, is that the behavior you first teach your dog, is the behavior that sticks with them the best in their life.

I have had animals that I’ve trained for other people, then given back to their owners who did no training for a decade, that when I saw that animal 10 years later, could still remember the first behavior I ever taught them, but not the second or third.

I call this the DEFAULT behavior.  And from my experience, it seems like you only get to imprint one of these on your dog.

Now of course, if you keep up your training dog’s are remarkable learners and can do many things.  But if you tend to be lazy, and you know that about yourself, make sure you AREN’T lazy about the first behavior you use clicker training on to train your dog, because if done like we show you hear, it can and often will become a default behavior that can be a remarkably helpful tool for helping you have a well behaved dog throughout every stage of his life.

And in the case of the ‘go to bed command’ it has three main benefits:

  • It contains an element of getting your dog to be calm on a bed
  • Because it’s a shaping behavior it trains the dog to start to guess at what you want him to do, which becomes a key driver of your dog’s loyalty towards you in the future.
  • It is an AWAY behavior.

What is an AWAY behavior and Why Should You Care?

Most people who train their dogs to do something like “sit” for example, aren’t just training sit.

If you go over to their homes, and you watch them tell their dog’s to sit, their dog’s don’t just sit.  Instead, they come from wherever they are in their house, and then sit at their feet.  They’re actually doing a come and then sit.

And while this is not a huge deal in the typical household, what this is is only training the dog to come to you to do things.

The problem with this is that to get a behavioral change in your dog, you will often have to ask him to ‘leave the scene’…

If a dog is jumping up on someone at your door, asking him to go to his bed is an away motivated behavior, because you’re asking him to leave something that’s exciting.  The same is true for barking at strangers, or stealing food off counters, begging, getting on the sofa etc.

So by training an away motivated behavior first, which is to leave me, and go somewhere else, like a bed; and training that first, as the default behavior… you are training your dog to be MUCH, MUCH, MUCH more likely to obey you in emotionally intense situations in his future.

 

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Comments

  1. Amy Johnson says:

    Minnette,
    I had to go back and try to read all these dog training things..At the time I didn’t have a puppy..now we do..I might try this when its older.

    thanks for all the info.

    Amy Johnson

    [Reply]

  2. mary says:

    i have these three cd and i was doing it with the clicker and did not know if i was doing it right it said to click and treat so i waould click and treay and then he would sit for a treat when he seen the clicker he would get happy and set so i would treat him and when he got down off the cought when i told him i treat him is that the right way or rong way i stop doing it because i want to do it the right way to teach him please let me know thank you it hard for me because i have short turm membeorie

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Yes, you pair the clicker with the treats when he does what you want him to. The click indicates to him that he has just done what you want him to do. Eventually once he has learned the behavior, like sitting you no longer need to click and treat. Simply rewarding him occasionally for listening to you tell him to sit will encourage him to continue to listen. Then you can move on to other behaviors!

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  3. mary says:

    thank you for the answer my quistion i had so if i was to tell him to get off the cough when he dose i click and treat

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  4. dj says:

    Any suggestions on how to use the clicker training with 2 siberian husky puppies (brothers) 8 weeks old? When I try to separate them to work one on one the other complains. thanks

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    I would separate anyway! They should learn to function alone.

    However you can still click and reward just the one pup that did what he was suppose to or you can get a clicker that has two distinct noises and appropriate one noise for each puppy!

    [Reply]

  5. Pop says:

    We (Daisy, the Min Schnauzer, and I) are in beginning clicker training. I’m sitting quietly on a chair waiting for some kind of favorable behavior. Daisy sits some distance away from me and I immediatley click as the behavior occurs. my question is do i move to her to award the treat or do I show her the treat and call her to me? Do we only work on one behavior during a given session?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    First you load the clicker by clicking and treating immediately for no given behavior. You must make the clicker mean something to the dog.

    Then you make it a training opportunity by taking out treats and the clicker and letting her show you behaviors.

    You DO NOT have to work on just one behavior you can work on a few. Don’t overwhelm her but if you just work on ONE thing she may get confused or bored. Reward her for anything she does that you will continue to like seeing and HAVE FUN!!

    [Reply]

  6. sidney says:

    When I walk my dog I carry treats and every time she looks up at me I say YES and treat her but I am afraid I am giving her too much food as she is inclined to put on weight,how do I stop giving her treats but still keep her watching me?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Wean her off of them by only rewarding her as she HOLDs eye contact on you…then you reward her for longer and longer periods of time where she keeps focus.

    When I take my dog outside and we work on focused heel. I give her the command and we head off then I maybe give her less than half dozen treats at different times throughout the training.

    I also use a ball and no treats sometimes.

    And I make sure the treats are pea sized or smaller! No bigger, because she is on a diet too!

    [Reply]

  7. Cindy says:

    Mason was potty trained. Then I started to walk him every morning and he would poo on our walk. When I did not walk he would poo in the house. Now what do I do. HELP!

    [Reply]

  8. Allison says:

    Mason is telling you that he NEEDS to have several walks for a day or he has no alternative other than to relieve himself in the house. What you might want to clicker train to is to clicker train going to the door and asking to go out.

    Start by loading the clicker. Once he knows clicker and treat go together…then take him to the door you want him to use…wait for a behavior (barking) or (pawing the door) or making a noise at the door, etc. Choose a behavior you can live with and wait for something he does that is like what you want. Clicker that behavior and wait for it to re-occur. Once he is making the right sound, start clickering that and opening the door with both of you going out. Outside, clicker for relieving himself.

    Go inside and try again in about an hour to hour and a half. Also do this about 20 minutes after every meal and after every nap as well as when he first arises in the morning. Soon he will be asking to go out. He will need to have a chance to relieve himself 5-8 times daily if he’s a young dog.
    Be persistant and be consistant.

    [Reply]

  9. Iona & Harold says:

    Hi,
    I have an 8 month/90 lb Great Pyrenees named Harold! I know the breed are known for their independence. When we go to the dog park, he loves it and the other dogs! We don’t need to bring a ball, he runs after the other dogs chasing after the ball!

    I see people walking around the perimeter of the dog park and their dogs play with other dogs and then run to catch up with their people.

    What I’m wondering is, with my big dear Harold, is this a possibility in the future? The moment he gets in the dog park, he’s gone to say hi to everyone! And there I am walking after him

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Not all dogs care about their owner when other dogs are present, you have to teach him to come and listen under all circumstances and until he does you may not want to reinforce him ignoring you by letting him play.

    [Reply]

  10. Iona & Harols says:

    He does come when called… sometimes! Any suggestions on what we can work on to get him to come on a regular & consistent basis?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    use a long line!

    [Reply]

  11. marinka says:

    Hi,
    Im using the clicker but my dog never looks at me when i click,but looks toward my pocket( thats where the treats come from )He never makes eye-contact. Does this mean he doens,t make the connection good behavior/clicker but just the connection clicker /food regardles of what i want him to do ?

    Marinka

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    The clicker has nothing to do with eye contact unless you require him to give you focus!

    So teach him to give you eye contact then click, then it won’t matter where he looks after he makes eye contact.

    [Reply]

  12. Hi! What do you mean by the term “load the clicker” ?

    [Reply]

  13. Brittany says:

    I am wondering a few things…what age should you or could you begin this at? I have a german shephard that I am getting once she is 8 weeks old in December and want to teach her things like sit, shake etc. and some obidience things. You said the clicker isn’t used with commands so how does she know what you are trying to teach her how to do? In my mind I would tell her to sit and if she sat you would click and they reward her…I’m a little confused as to how it works…are there any videos?

    [Reply]

  14. hanijurdi says:

    I like all those trainings you are sending to us and iam thankfull for all and if you can Iam working with my rottwillar and i need a videos how to make my dog hold when attack the glove
    thanks

    [Reply]

  15. audrey skrzyniarz says:

    I have a 5 year old rescue black lab. She came to me 7 months ago from the Humane Society after being surrendered by her 4 th owner. The why of this many owners I do not know except she has not been leash trained. She is very sweet and knows her basic commands. The issues are she seems to want to hide her food dish by using her nose to do this on a rug. She seems to wish to eat with no one watching plus I had weeks of trying to find one dry food she would eat without masking it with can dog food. I found Bil-Jac which surprised me she ate. Aside from that, she only wants outdoors play with a Frisbee. She seems not to understand what a ball means just looks at it and walks away. She is my 3rd rescue lab but they all came to me as under a year. She also likes to rub her body along my legs or the bed as I get off t. She does not lick so I am wondering what I need to do or try to add to her life with me. Is it possible that she doesn’t understand this home is forever?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Dogs like cats can rub to put their scent on you and mark you, not harmful or a big deal at all

    [Reply]

  16. Navneet says:

    Hi,
    I am in India, and i have adopted a blind 1 month Great Dane puppy. I already have a 2 year old Labrador. This new puppy needs constant touch, so i have to carry him or touch him all the time, i can only move around or do work when he is asleep and my lab is not cooperating at all, she just jumps on the new puppy and bark on him. I need some tips for the blind dog, so that he learns to roam around in the house and serach me when i call him. he feels lost and lonely when we leave him for 2 minutes even and starts screaming. Also pls some tips for potty training. One more thing, how shall i train my lab to accept him as a friend or help the little one.

    Thanks
    Navneet

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    First the dog needs to learn to be independent. If you continue to carry and let him touch you constantly he is going to become dependent, and won’t be able to function without you.

    He doesn’t know sight, so he doesn’t know he is disabled, only you know that and are treating him differently.

    I would work on obedience with all of them especially the other two so that they don’t take advantage and hurt him. But he also needs to learn to be a dog.

    Here is an article to help, and you can also search the site on the right side of the page there is a search bar you can search for potty training tips. http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/train-blind-dog/

    [Reply]

  17. Donna says:

    How could I use the clicker to stop my dog barking at other dogs when on the lead,he doesn’t listen as he is barking.He is a 5yr old Cocker spaniel.Thank you.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Read this and the articles within http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/top-5-reasons-dog-quiet/

    [Reply]

  18. Dwight says:

    It means to click the clicker and then treat the dog, to let him associate the clicker with a reward when he hears it again.

    [Reply]

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