If you’ve been looking for a way to train your dog, you might have heard the term “clicker training”. The clicker training method has recently become quite popular among dog trainers and makes use of a small clicker, which is essentially a plastic box with a button with an internal mechanism that makes a distinctive clicking sound. The clicker training method is closest to the positive training method, is very simple, and has been shown to be highly effective.
All that is required for clicker training is to decide on a behavior you want to teach your dog, like “sit” or “stay”. Eating, barking, sitting, standing, and other behaviors all come naturally to your dog, and these can be reinforced so that your dog knows when you want him to exhibit a certain behavior. Shaking hands, rolling over, playing dead, and other “tricks” don’t come as naturally and the dog will need to be taught how to do them. Clicker training can work for both, but it is most essential to teach your dog useful behaviors first and save tricks for later.
Clicker training works based on operant conditioning, much like Pavlov’s dogs, and forms a connection in your dog’s mind between treats and the sound of the clicker. All that’s left to do for you is to use the clicker to command your dog to exhibit a desirable behavior, like sitting, immediately click the clicker when he sits, and then follow it up with a treat.
Let’s say you want to teach your dog to sit. If you put a dog treat playfully on his nose and move it upwards, the dog will follow the motion of the treat and eventually have to sit down. As soon as your dog’s behind hits the ground you click the clicker, then give him the treat and praise him. The clicker is associated with sitting, and the treat means he did something good, so he knows the clicker is a positive thing and he’s being rewarded for sitting. Continue doing this for one behavior until he masters it, so in the example that would be sitting. Once he sits upon hearing the click, you can move on to other behaviors. Be sure you never make the clicking sound unless it’s right at the moment your dog exhibits a desirable behavior. If you click for any other reason it will lose meaning to the dog and will simply confuse him.
Your dog is very smart, so don’t assume your dog is dumb. Negative reinforcement has often been used in conjunction with the clicker training method, as well (in other words punishing the dog when he does something wrong as well as treating him when he does something right). However, this does not help. In fact, it can damage your dog psychologically, is very frustrating, and is not efficient for training.
Training of any kind is very rigorous and strenuous for your dog, so you will want to proceed with patience. Give your dog time to learn and adjust, and don’t expose your dog to extended periods of training without a break. Also, even though clicker training has been proven to be highly effective, not all training methods work for all types of dogs. If you feel after a few months that clicker training is not working, you might want to investigate other methods of training and see how your dog responds.