Clicker training is a method of animal training that uses a click to tell an animal when it does something correctly.
The clicker is a tiny box held in the palm of your hand, with a button that you push quickly to make the sound. Clicker training is considered to be a positive training method since the dog is rewarded for good behavior.
The clicker creates a connection between a human trainer and an animal trainee.
First, a trainer teaches the dog that every time it hears the clicking sound, it gets a treat. Once the dog understands that clicks are always followed by treats, the click becomes a welcome sound.
For example, if a pet owner wants to teach a dog to sit, they will click the instant the dog’s butt hits the floor and then give the dog a tasty training treat. With repetition, the dog learns that sitting earns rewards. So the click takes on a certain meaning.
Through the clicker, the trainer communicates with the dog, and that speeds up training.
Some dogs will naturally respond better to this type of training than others. For example, anxious dogs or dogs who are sensitive to sounds may be frightened of the clicker.
Once your dog seems to understand the connection between the click and the treat, you’re ready to get started. Keep these guidelines from the ASPCA in mind to ensure your clicker training success:
There are three types of clicker training methods:
“Catching” means that you catch your pet in the act of doing the behavior you want. It’s the perfect method for training behaviors that your pet already does on his own, like sitting, lying down, and maybe rolling over on grass.
For example, if you want to train your dog to lie down, you can stand in your living room with your dog and just wait.
After a little while, your dog will probably decide to lie down and get comfortable on his own. The instant his body hits the floor, click and toss a treat on the ground a few feet in front of him.
With “shaping,” you gradually build a new behavior in a series of small steps by clicking and rewarding.
Shaping is a good method for training new behaviors (or a series of behaviors) that your pet doesn’t already do on his own naturally. You start by rewarding the first small behavior that begins your pet on his journey toward the complete behavior. When he’s mastered that first step, you ask a little more of him—require him to do the next small step to earn his click and treat.
“Luring” involves using a treat as a guide to get your pet into the desired position. The food is held right in front of your pet’s nose and then moved while he follows it.
For example, to lure a dog into a down position, hold a piece of food in front of his nose and then slowly draw it straight down in front of his chest to the floor. The food will work like a magnet, drawing your dog’s nose and then his body downward. As his elbows touch the floor, click and treat for the down.
After some practice, you can just use the hand motion to prompt your dog to lie down. Make the same movement as before, but with no treat in your hand. Over many repetitions, you can gradually make this hand signal smaller and shorter. Eventually, your dog will lie down when you point to the ground.
Watch as dog training expert Victoria Stilwell takes us through some clicker training basics!
In addition to the information listed above, there are a few more clicker training for dogs tips we’d like to provide you with.
For more dog training resources, check out our list of the top dog training books and see our curation collection of free online dog training videos!
Meg Marrs is the Founder and Senior Editor at K9 of Mine. She is a lifelong canine enthusiast and adores dogs of all shapes and sizes! She loves iced coffee, hammocks, and puppy-cuddling!