How to Clicker Train Effectively
Have you ever wished you had a magic wand?
When it comes to pet training, a clicker is as close to a magic wand as it gets. When you learn how to clicker train effectively the magic click-clack of the clicker gives you an almost super-human (or super-canine?) power over the dog. How can this be? To learn the secrets of clicker training read on.
What is a Clicker?
A Clicker is simply a handheld plastic box housing a strip of stiff metal (the magic is invisible). When you press the metal strip it deforms and makes a distinctive click-clack noise. Simple as that.
The trick is to teach the dog (or any pet) to associate that click-clack with a reward. That way each time you press the clicker, the dog expects a treat and starts looking for ways to make you press that magic clicker. This is the foundation on which clicker training is built.
You capture his desire to earn a treat, by clicking when the pet does what you ask, for example, you can clicker train a pup to sit in double quick time, by clicking each time his butt hits the ground. When he realizes parking his rear end earns a reward, your puppy will start throwing ‘sits’ at you left, right, and center. (OK, there’s a bit more work involved but you get the idea.)
Next, when he is reliably sitting to the clicker, you ‘label’ the action with a cue name, in this case “Sit.” Now you can tell him what you want, “Sit”, and he does it to earn that reward.Why Bother with the Clicker?
OK, I hear you say, why can’t I skip the clicker and just use a verbal command?
The answer’s in the timing and because talk is cheap.
Firstly, the dog knows what you want because you tell him at the PRECISE moment he does that action. For example, you want him to yawn on command – you mark when his mouth opens, to sit – when his butt hits the ground. Place the cue before or after the event and the dog gets mixed messages. You need to be super speedy and capture the very second when the dog is actively engaged in yawning or sitting.
This is where clicker training has the advantage. A useful analogy is to think of the clicker as a camera, capturing the behavior. The click-clack is equivalent to the shutter release, taking a picture of the exact moment you want to reward. This is why so many people learn how to clicker train, because the dog links the unique sound to a specific action.
Wait a minute. Every time I yawn, she clicks me. What an easy way to get a treat.
Another strong reason to use a clicker is the click-clack – a unique noise. Contrast this with a spoken command, “Sit”, where you might say the word any number of times a day when talking to kids or your partner, and the dog isn’t expected to respond.
Hold on, you say! My dog sits perfectly and I’ve never used a clicker. OK, well yes, dog’s do learn eventually but it’s harder work and not so much fun. Also, knowing how to clicker train is ideal when teaching a new command.
Your first step when learning how to clicker train is linking click-clack to a reward. This is simplicity itself. Simply click, and toss the dog a treat. And repeat. Before long the dog hears the clicker and anticipates the treat – this is when you’re ready to rock.
Hey, every time I hear that clicking noise I get a treat. How great is that?
A word about treats. Firstly, make sure they are small, I mean really small. You want the dog to get a taste, but not spend five minutes devouring his favorite chew. Also, know that those treats contain calories, so to prevent weight gain, cut back on his meals to balance things off. It’s a good idea to have a scale of treats, from his ordinary kibble to spectacularly tasty. The latter act as added motivation when teaching a new command, or reinforcing an action he’s not so good at, and keep the kibble for reinforcing behaviors he already knows.Keeping him Keen
Ever feel taken for granted? Well, this can happen with clicker training, if the rewards become too predictable. The dog can become lazy and get sloppy in his sit, as he thinks:
If I get a treat every time I sit, then I can skip a few requests and I’ll still get my reward. What did she say? Sit? Nay, I’ll pass this time, thanks very much.
To counteract this, once he understands what you want; start skipping the odd reward (but keeping clicking). This makes his thinking go something like this:
She clicked, but I didn’t get a treat. What did I do wrong? Perhaps she didn’t see me sit. Better make it clearer next time.
Once the dog has learned a command by using clicker training, whether or not he gets a reward builds in an unpredictability which keeps his attention focused.Reward-Based Training
And finally, learning how to clicker train unlocks the potential that is reward-based training. Using this system you can teach a pet to perform complex actions, simply by breaking them down into the constituent parts and teaching each step individually using a clicker. The sky’s the limit, which is why assistance dogs are trained this way. So start today, and have fun training your pet with a clicker. [See also: Holly & Hugo: Animal Training and Pet Sitting course.]
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