Insured to train xl bullies with Pet business insurance. 

What is clicker training

What is Clicker Training?

Clicker training have you heard about it before? Its a way of training your dog in an effective, positive and clear way. The clicker is used to communicate to the dog exactly what we want from them. With clicker training it can help the dog to understand us more and to speed up the training sessions a hell of a lot faster. Unfortunately we can just explain to the dog what we want from them, but with us using the clicker in our sessions we are able to communicate with the click!

Around 10-15 years ago, it was mainly animal training professionals that used clickers for training, for example animal professionals who train on TV shows and movie sets. Its only really a recent thing where the clicker has become more of a favoured method with dog owners. The idea of clicker training believe this or not has been around since the 1940’s, and it took a long time to become well known. Clicker training can be used for all animals, I have seen horses, cats, sheep and goats being trained with the clicker, not just dogs. It’s a simple but effective way to pair together a behaviour that the dog carries out with a tasty treat reward or a toy reward

Does using the clicker reward the dog?

The short answer is no. when it comes to encouraging our dogs behaviour then you can never shift away from using positive reinforcement with food or toys or both. The clicker is used to link the dog’s response with a reward that follows straight after. So for example, You ask the dog for a sit, the dog sits, as soon as the dogs bum hits the floor, you click and then straight after you reward the dog.

Actions have consequences

When training a dog a behaviour, we use the concept of, the dog does an action and we deliver the consequence.

So for example if we was to train a puppy to sit, we would use a treat and lure the puppy to sit, and then we would reward the sit with the treat. The puppy learns that, the treat and sitting actually pays off, and then the next time the puppy is more likely to offer the behaviour.

Using the marker

You have a puppy who can’t sit still due to being full of energy and your trying to teach them to sit. But as soon as your hand goes to get that treat the puppy has already done several different things, given paw, stood, sat, laid down, spun. So how do we teach the puppy to understand that they get the reward for sitting and nothing else at this time. This is where we need a more exact way to communicate exactly what they need to do to get the reward.

The Marker is a sound that we use to mark a behaviour. This sound links the behaviour we are going to reward with a treat like the sit. Some dog owners like to use a verbal marker like “good” or “yes” when their dog does something they want, then as soon as the dog does the behaviour they give the mark word and reward immediately from their pocket. The clicker is just another option for a marker instead of using a verbal marker.

Do I have to carry a clicker at all times?

One thing I hear a lot from people is they don’t want to use the clicker as its too much of a pain to have to carry it around all the time when you want the dog to behave. But guess what, that definitely is not the case! Or my own dogs wouldn’t do anything right, and I am always loosing or forgetting my clickers.

The clicker is a small plastic device that clicks when you press the button, and it is used as a tool for training, it helps to train behaviours quicker and more efficient. Using the sit as an example, What actually makes the dog go into a sit is the history from the reinforcement the dog has. If you’ve been rewarding your dog every time you’ve asked for a sit, the dog will see the value in sitting for you when you’ve asked. Using the clicker does not decide whether the dog sits or doesn’t sit, what does determine whether the dog sits or not is whether you have taught your dog that sitting really pays off in the form of either playtime or tasty treats!

Think of the clicker as being like your mobile ringing

The click sound that the clicker makes has no actual value for your dog whatsoever. You will probably find that when it comes to using it for the first time, your dog will more than likely show no excitement or interest. That is because your dog doesn’t yet understand what the clicking is related to getting a treat.

With the clicker we turn it into a so called “conditioned reinforcer”. There are things known and as primary reinforces, these are things that we find reinforcing say from birth like food. Conditioned reinforcers are something that is taught as being valuable through an experience like as in money. The clicker is known as the latter, and it can also be compared to the sound of a phone ringing.

Can you remember a time when we didn’t get spammed on a daily basis with spam calls trying to sell you solar panels or insurance, every time your phone rang you knew it was someone who was either a family member or a friend. When the phone rang it would make you happy, even before you answered it. The sound of your phone ringing was closely linked to hearing a familiar voice on the end of the phone.

How times have changed since then. When my phone rings its usually a client but I can guarantee I get several spam calls throughout the day, and on some occasions I don’t even feel motivated enough to answer the phone, as I know it’ll be a call centre wanting to sell me something.

This is where you can see how the same sound can have a contrasting meaning. This is the same with the clicker, By keeping a promise to your dog that every time they hear a click, the dog knows they will get a treat, this then gives the clicker a meaning.

If you was to use a clicker, and click when the dog does something that is correct, but then you don’t reward the dog (I do not recommend not rewarding), then over time the clicker will just lose its meaning, the same as the phone ringing. Positive reinforcement will need to come separately from the clicker. If you was to stop pairing together the two then the clicker will lose its power.

What should the clicker be used for?

You don’t need to use a clicker if your dog either knows a behaviour really well, or your dog has been doing the behaviour over a long enough period that they know what the reward is for.

Here’s an example for the later:

If you’re training for recall and you call your dog and they comes running to you to get their treat reward or a toy, then it is clear to your dog what they just got rewarded for. You don’t need to use a clicker to mark the exact moment your dog is doing the right thing and in fact, the wholetime your dog is running towards you is right. The progression of “Come” – your dog comes runningyour dog gets a reward and does not need any word to bridge the action to the consequence.

Dog is distracted— the ideal time to use a clicker

Here’s a scenario where using the clicker comes in useful. Dogs have a tendency to get very distracted when they are in new and unknown situations and environments. Most dogs get quite overwhelmed with excitement when going to a group training class the very first time.

Puppy class can be pretty hectic when its the first session – puppies pulling on lead, barking, wanting to sniff and play with one another. The owners are at the other end of the lead looking helpless and frustrated. It is almost impossible to try and start training without the puppies having their attention on their humans at first.

The solution for this is for the puppies and their owners to have some distance away from each other and just allow for the puppies to calm down a little. Once there is some distance between the puppies, they can then calm down enough to stop pulling and start to look at their surroundings. Whilst they look around, the puppy might look at their owner for just a split second. Yes! Click and reward. Without the clicker, this split second of attention would be way too short for you to reach into the treat pouch or pocket, get out the treat and give it to your puppy – their eyes would have already glanced at several different things in the meantime and they wouldn’t understand exactly what they just got a reward for.

However with a clicker, we can make it really clear to the puppy that it’s their focus (even if its short to start with) that gets that reward!

Once the dog realises what we are rewarding them for, they will soon make an effort to keep repeating the behaviour to keep getting more treats. In the end we will start to get the focus for longer periods, and the puppy class becomes calm enough for begin the training!

Using a clicker for “shaping”

Using a clicker can help teach the dog behaviours or tricks via shaping better than anything else. With shaping you can click for tiny steps that will in time lead to your dog to learning a full behaviour.

Clicking and rewarding your dog’s brief attention already was shaping – rather than waiting for your dog to give you a minute of continuous eye contact, you started by just rewarding them for just a split second of it. Eventually your dog got better and better and even offered you longer periods of eye contact. You shaped that behaviour, starting off with very little and working up towards the end goal (the same as you would shape an object from clay).

Dogs can learn an array of tricks using shaping. You can use luring for some tricks (tricks that are “lead by the head”, for example teaching your dog to spin), Tricks that are not “lead by the head” need to be approached differently (like walking backwards, or lifting a back paw – not easy to lure that!).

To start with you need to teach your dog to recognise that the clicker can mark not just their eye contact or a sit, but it can also mark any kind of movement that they do with their body.

Charging the clicker?

Before using the clicker for training it used to be a common process to “charge the clicker”. The idea of this exercise would be that the dog would hear the click and then they would receive a treat for doing absolutely nothing. You would do this at the start of every training session whenever using the clicker. The combination of the click and the treat would happen numerous times, some trainers would recommend the combination of click and treat anything from 30 to 100 times without the dog actually doing anything to earn them. My personal view is that this isn’t needed. The problem with the dog understanding clicker training, is not connecting the sound of the click with the arrival of the treat. This happens very quickly without the dog even thinking about it, its known as basic classical conditioning. The actual struggle is for the dog to be aware enough of their own actions and movements that they know what they were doing in the moment that they heard the clicker. What was their body doing? Was the dog moving their legs? Can the dog replicate the same action again so they can earn another click and treat?

By charging the clicker, which means click and treat without the dog doing anything for it, we are literally lying to the dog what the clicker really means.

What we are saying to the dog is look at the awesome tool that makes tasty treats appear whenever you hear the sound of a click, and the click sound will happen just randomly, its not related to what it is your doing.

Then once giving the dog the experience of between 30 and 100 treats, we all of a sudden turn round to the dog and say, actually to make the click happen, its down to you to get it to work.

This is not going to make the learning experience go any faster. Connecting the click and treat is really easy, and will happen on the go whilst you’re training. I don’t charge the clicker with my own dogs, and they quickly learn what it means. I think the dog quickly understands that they can make the click happen rather than us showing them that the click is random.

Now its training time!

Go and have some fun with your dog and try out some training using the clicker. Use lots of small pieces of food or treats. Once your dog understands it, clicker training is really fun and a great way of getting your dog to think and for you to engage with your dog.

Send a Message

An email will be sent to the owner


Give us a ring

07562 344998

Send us an email

[email protected]