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
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
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
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!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.