My Dog Is Terrified of the Clicker; What Do I Do?

Two Kinds of Clickers. The Box Kind Tends to be Louder. Thanks Pumpkin pups for the photo.

I get this question all the time.

My dog is terrified of the clicker, what should I do?  Can I train without using the clicker?

So I thought I would take a minute and jot down my reasoning and my thoughts about fearful dogs and the clicker.

And, of course my experiences with clients and with dogs that have some noise issues.

As I Have Mentioned

As I have often mentioned I am a firm believer in clicker training and here is why; read this article on Why I Use a Clicker

I prefer to use a clicker to teach my dog new and especially complex behaviors.

Just praise from me or even just a marker word is not fast enough or good enough in my experience and I have been in that spot where I had no desire to use a clicker either, but I quickly learned as I used it that it is the better way to do dog obedience and even very advanced training.

So it is fairly important for me to help a dog get over his clicker phobia so he has access to the better dog training that clicker and marker training provide.

So you CAN train without a clicker, but in my humble opinion and it is scientifically proven that it is better to use a clicker.

The Other Reason to Get Your Dog Over His Clicker Phobia?

The other reason to get your dog over his clicker phobia is that a clicker is such a small sound in life in comparison to other noises.

Life is full of jack hammers and big trucks and trains and all kinds of noisiness.  If a dog can’t function with the sound of a clicker how is he going to manage having a normal life?

Noise is a part of life, and a clicker is a pretty minuscule sound to get them used to in the scheme of things.

I can control the clicker and I can desensitize my dog to it and teaching him that will help him overcome other noise phobias as he learns to have confidence and trust in me.

My Mother Had a Truly Phobic Dog

Thanks Anything Pawsable For the Photo

Thanks Anything Pawsable For the Photo

My mother had a truly phobic dog that she adopted from a shelter.  The reason she got her is because she seemed so fearful and she wanted to give her a shot at life.

However the dog hid in her closet for months, all day and night.

She would go outside, potty, quickly eat and drink and then preferred to stay in the dark closet.

Nothing she did seemed to help.

And eventually the dog got scared and tried to attack her.

This is pretty abnormal, thank goodness.  Most dogs are somewhere in between being bomb proof and totally afraid of everything in their environment.  But if you have a dog that is truly terrified of everything I suggest a veterinary behaviorist to see the dog and help build a behavior modification program for you both that is safe and won’t traumatize your dog.  It is essential to have an expert see the behavior to know where to start you on your road to desensitization.

For help with other ideas and noise phobias click here Noise Proofing Your Dog; and Helping a Skittish Dog Cope with Sound.    There are some great ideas in there.

Helping Your Dog with The Clicker

S

Thanks Miles and Emma for the Photo

Thanks Miles and Emma for the Photo

o how do you help your dog with the clicker.

First there are many clickers available the square ones that first came out are notoriously LOUD!

The oval ones with the button are better.

But, they even make clickers that have a variety of other sounds.  You can do a search online to find these.  They were often used to help more than one dog in a family use the clicker.

You can also use the head of a pen, which barely makes a sound at all.

They even have little clicking toys in most party stores that are used as party favors that have little to no click sound.

You can also wrap whatever tool you are using (clicker, pen, toy) in a towel or put it in your pocket or both to help muffle the sound.

You can also click often so that the dog learns to get used to the noise.

I even click while my dog is in the living room and I am in the kitchen so I can toss a treat directly after clicking.  Being in another room also helps your dog to get used to a sound and makes it less confrontational.

But unless I have a dog that is so terrified he absolutely can’t function and after a few weeks of this; he isn’t any better, I expect my dogs to get used to noise.

If it is traumatizing you, you can use a bell or another noise that will sound the same and then work your way up to a clicker before moving on to tackle bigger noises.

I Once Adopted a Fearful Clicker Dog From a Shelter

Everybody Loves a Clicker, Thanks Clicker Training.com for the Photo

Everybody Loves a Clicker, Thanks Clicker Training.com for the Photo

I once adopted a sweet little Lab mix from a shelter as a potential Service Dog candidate.  She was afraid of the clicker.  Remember the clicker has no meaning until you give it a meaning; so she had to learn to get used to it and then learn it’s meaning.

If I couldn’t acclimate her, she would have had to go back to the shelter.

Now, don’t judge 😉 one of our contract stipulations with shelters was if the dog failed for whatever reason they would go back so the shelter could adopt them out.

But, I didn’t want to risk sending her back to the shelter.

So I clicked, and I clicked, and I clicked some more, and I tossed her treats in other rooms and I turned up the radio to muffle the sound and I put the clicker in a towel and in my pocket and we worked for a couple of weeks and she fairly quickly realized that the click brought a treat.

And, when we encountered jack hammers and bus noises and other weird things she had learned to trust me in her initial training to get over the clicker.  So I could now use the clicker to calm her and allow her to win and gain confidence.

She went on to be a great Service Dog and lived a happy and great life helping her partner.

If I had given up on her she could have ended up euthanized at the shelter or living in fear of sounds at someone else’s house who might not have pushed her a little and taught her how fun sound could be.

It was a pretty quick and easy way for her to learn and overcome.

So With That in Mind

So, with that in mind I recommend you acclimate your dog to the clicker and then you can tackle other crazy noises in your environment!

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Comments

  1. Brenda says:

    didn’t think of clicking pen, should have. i bought a squeaky toy for the dog that we can’t hear (Hear Doggy). it’s a riot to watch.

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  2. Tammy says:

    I have a dog that was peppered with a shotgun a few years ago and any noise sends her into a full panic, breathing hard and eyes dilated so big you can’t anything but black. Clicker training now is out of the question for her. Is there anything that I can do to help her get over her phobia? I have tried ever thing I can think of. Her actions are rubbing of on my other dogs. Any suggestions?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    find a veterinary behaviorist to safely help you desensitize her

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  3. Bandit says:

    There is no way I will clicker train. We have had such bad experience with it. Trainers don’t understand it either. He hates squeaky toys also and for a dog that is sound sensitive he loves motorcycles, trains and airplanes. He lets me know when the buzzers in the house go off so we are pretty much talking clicker specific. Owners should be the one offering the praise and reward instead of a stupid noise.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    The clicker does not offer praise or operate it self, it in itself is not rewarding it is pairing it with something the dog wants that makes it rewarding.

    And it is proven that it is a faster way to teach animals.

    [Reply]

  4. Ava Faries says:

    Please help we have a rescue dog. He is very loving but he will bite you if you try to pick him up. He has had bad life before he came to us. He bonded with our oldest granddaughter she is 18 years old. But she does not have the time to spend with him. I live with our son and I feel like I could help but I don’t know where to start. He barks and whines ever time one of the family leave. He whines all night. My daughter-in-law is about to give up on him and I think he can be helped. Please help me with this problem.
    He also pees and poops in the house and gets on the bed and uses the bathroom.
    Thanks for all you can do
    Ava Faries Tomball Tx.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    With aggression you need a veterinary behaviorist to come out and witness the behavior and put you on a behavior modification program.

    I can’t see him so any advice I give could get you bitten or worse. It is time to get a referral to a veterinary behaviorist.

    [Reply]

  5. Ian Goodman says:

    Can you tell me if Clickers are available in Australia

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    I would just do a search on line or call a pet supply store, but my guess is yes

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  6. Suburbangeorge says:

    Here’s an alternative to the clicker but it requires that you put up with a wild untrained puppy for a while. Many dog toys contain squeakers(little clear plastic bulbs that squeak when squeezed). Many of the toys last a day or two(I have an Aussie)but the squeakers are pretty indistructable. I discovered by accident that Sandy will come when I squeak the squeaker. Pretty much no matter what she is doing. I assume that she associates the squeak with fun(the toy) rather than with food(the clicker). Otherwise the same thing. I haven’t taken this to the next step of using it as a training aid. To be honest, even though I bought your course, I’m still training my old fashioned way. I’m on my 5th Aussie and what works for me is to totally integrate my dog into my life(sleeps with me, goes to work with me etc)and then rely on her desire to please me. It takes a while for her to learn enough language to get what I want but in the end we are more of a team than if the dog is just conditioned to respond to a reward that anyone can provide. Can’t even concieve of an item that would so frighten my dog that that I couldn’t reassure her(yes I can’ fireworks with my last dog, Poppy, but if I held her and talked with her, we’d get through it)but the squeaker may be an alternative.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    squeakers can work, anything that makes sound can work… but squeakers can engage their prey drive which can be a bad thing for some dogs.

    [Reply]

  7. Joe Brinn says:

    Thanks for the info. Our little Yorkie pup is in training at Petsmart and he is afraid of the clicker and will run when he even sees it in our hands so we will try some of your suggestions as we too feel that the clicker training is a great way to get your dog or puppy responding to correct commands and signals.

    [Reply]

  8. Susan says:

    My dog will not take treats or food after I click. He just slinks away. It is really pretty pitiful.

    I will try the pen clicking and see what happens.

    Thanks.

    [Reply]

  9. Robert Zraick says:

    A lot of comments. but no one has answered my question. What about a bell of a whistle as a substitute? If I cab carry around a clicker, I can carry a bell or a whistle.

    [Reply]

  10. Robert Zraick says:

    “can” typo

    [Reply]

  11. Ellen says:

    Thank you are the explanation and suggestions. I have been trying to snap my fingers as a replacement for the clicker. My dog does not have the fear response to my snap. But, we need a lot more practice associating to have it work when he goes into his fear/protective bark when we are out. I agree that he needs to get over his fear; all of them.

    [Reply]

  12. Sue says:

    Hi, I have 2 French bulldogs that were born deaf so obviously a clicker or anything involving sound won’t work. They also have to be looking at me for any sign language or visual clues.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    search my articles for working with deaf dogs

    [Reply]

  13. Mary A Hamel says:

    I have a three yr. old Shih Tzu . She is terrified of loud noises. I have had her from age 8 weeks. She heard a different noise such as smoke detector and she runs. Sometimes for no reason that we know of she finds an open door and will run for blocks. Will not come to us or stop. HELP

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Use the search bar at the top of the page to search for noise phobias and be sure to read this article.

    [Reply]

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