Clicker training works by pairing the sound of the clicker with a reward, usually a food treat. By teaching a dog that the sound of the clicker will be followed by something desirable, you can cause the dog to offer behavior in the hopes of earning a click. By clicking when the dog is performing a desired behavior you will increase the chance of that behavior happening again. Once a dog is predictably offering a behavior, you can add a cue to perform it. At this point you will stop clicking the behavior unless you have given the cue.
Rules of clicker training:
- If you click, you must reward. Even if you click by accident, the dog still gets a treat.
- Think of the clicker as a camera. You should click exactly as the behavior occurs, as though you were taking a picture of the behavior. This takes practice! Don’t worry if your timing isn’t perfect in the beginning- dogs are forgiving.
- Treats don’t need to be large. You will accomplish more training with ten tiny treats than one large treat. Many dogs will happily work for their regular kibble and using part of their meals for treats will help prevent weight gain.
- Don’t add a cue until you are fairly sure that your dog is going to do the behavior. At first say the cue as the behavior is happening, then work towards saying it before. Once a behavior is reliably on cue you may start clicking and treating variably and using verbal praise and affection the rest of the time.
- Work on one variable at a time. For example, if your dog has mastered a 30 second down stay with you six feet away, the next step would be either a 35 second stay with you at the same distance or a 30 second stay with you eight feet away, not both.
- Teach new behaviors in a quiet place before adding distractions.
- To prevent problems behaviors, reward an incompatible good behavior. For example, to prevent jumping up, reward sitting politely. To prevent barking, reward quiet.
- If something isn’t going well, go back several steps and make the task easier. When moving ahead with a skill, always work in baby steps.
- The click ends the behavior. This means if you click your dog while he is sitting, he is free to get up.
Charging the clicker:
Before using the clicker to teach a skill, the dog must be taught what the clicker sound means. You can do this by clicking and immediately rewarding 10-15 times.
Lesson 1: Attention
The ultimate goal of this lesson is do have dog who makes and holds eye contact at the sound of his name.
- Begin by clicking every time the dog glances in your direction, even if only for a second. Do this about 10-15 times.
- If this is working well, start clicking only when your dog makes actual eye contact. Do this about 10-15 times.
- The next step is to wait 1-3 second after the dog makes eye contact before clicking. Only click if he is still holding eye contact. Gradually build up to about 10 seconds.
- At this point you may start to add the dog’s name as a cue to make eye contact. Initially you will say his name as he is glancing in your direction but you will be working towards being able to say his name to cause the behavior to happen.
- Continue to expand this behavior by adding distractions or asking for the dog to hold eye contact longer. This is the basis for anything you will do with your dog, so attention should be reinforced regularly in your training session.
Lesson 2: Loose leash walking
The ultimate goal of this lesson is to have the dog walk politely without pulling, changing direction and stopping when you do.
- Begin with the dog on leash in a quiet area. Move forward at a normal pace. If the leash is loose, click and treat every few steps. If the dog reaches the end of the leash, turn and go the other way. When the dog catches up and the leash is loose, click and treat.
- Once the dog is moving with you on a loose leash you may add changes of direction, clicking and treating each time the dog turns with you and the leash is loose. At this point you can add the cue “let’s go” as you begin and with changes of direction.
- You will begin by clicking every few steps, but eventually back off until you are rewarding less frequently. If your goal is formal heeling, at this point you may click the dog only for being in approximate heel position by your left leg, raising your criteria as the dog becomes more proficient at this.
Lesson 3: Sit
The ultimate goal is for the dog to sit promptly on cue and continue sitting until released.
- Begin by luring the dog into a sit and clicking as soon as the rear hits the ground. Do this about 5 times with the treat in your hand, and about 5 more times with an empty hand.
- Add the cue by saying sit just before the rear touches the ground. Once this is reliable you may use the cue when the dog is in any position.
- To work towards a sit stay, start by waiting 1-3 seconds before clicking after the dog sits. Work your way up to about 15-20 seconds.
- At this point you may begin to step away from the dog. Tell the dog to stay and take a single step away with your right foot. Immediately return and release the dog. At this point I would recommend using a verbal release such as “all done”, rather than the clicker to let the dog know that the stay is over.
- Add time and distance to your stay separately. Always end the stay with either your release word or another command.
Lesson 4: Down
The ultimate goal is for the dog to down promptly on cue and stay down until released.
- Begin by during the dog to fold into a down from a stand. Unlike the sit, you may not get the full behavior at first. If necessary, click and treat the dog for starting to lie down, but quickly work towards the correct position. Don’t add the cue until the dog is lying down completely.
- The procedure for perfecting the down and adding a stay is the same as for the sit.
Lesson 5: Hand Targeting
Targeting a hard is another way to get your dog’s attention back to you.
- Begin by presenting your palm to your dog and clicking when he moves toward it with his nose. If necessary you may lure him to do so with a treat, but most dogs are curious enough to move towards the hand without a lure.
- Work towards clicking only when you feel your dog’s nose on your hand.
- Once your dog is consistently targeting your hand at a close distance, add the cue “touch” as he is moving towards your hand.
- Gradually add distance and distractions until your dog will seek out and touch your hand when he hears the cue “touch.”
Lesson 6: Target Training
Target training can be used to teach a dog to move away from you to s specific place, such as a mat or dog bed or to teach him to ring a bell to be let outside.
- Begin by holding the target and presenting it as you did with your hand. Click and treat when the dog moves towards and first, then only when he hits it with his nose.
- Move the target to the ground and click and treat the dog for touching it with his nose. If he doesn’t touch it on the ground right away, click him for shoing any interest in it.
- Once the dog is touching the target on the ground, add the cue “hit it” as he moves toward the target.
- Gradually add distance and distractions.