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The essentials

  • Clicker training is a form of positive reinforcement-based dog training This method emphasizes using rewards to encourage good behavior.
  • The clicker serves as a marker — It signals the exact moment the dog performs the desired behavior. This makes it easier for the dog to understand what’s expected of them.
  • Clicker training is a fun, engaging way to train your dog It can help improve their problem-solving skills and adaptability.

Are you struggling to teach your dog basic commands or trying to tackle more difficult behavioral issues? If so, you’re not alone. 

Nearly 73% of pet owners report seeking some form of training for their dogs , and clicker training is a popular choice. Yet, many are unaware of what clicker training is or how it can help owners train their dog.

In this article, you’ll get a sound overview of clicker training for dogs, what it can help with, the top benefits of using it, and tips and tricks for successfully using a clicker with your pooch.

What is clicker training for dogs?

Clicker training is a form of positive reinforcement training. It involves using a clicker, which is a small handheld device that produces a distinct “click” sound.

When your dog does what you ask, you’ll use the clicker at that exact moment and give them a reward. For example, if you say “sit” and your dog obeys, press the clicker and immediately follow up with a treat. After a few sessions of clicker + treat, you’re pup will start associating the clicker as the reward sans the treat.

The aim is to reward your dog for positive behavior instead of punishing them for negative behavior.

Despite what many think, clicker training isn’t new. In fact, it’s been around since the 1950s when American psychologist B.F. Skinner used it to train his dog. You might better know it as “the Pavlov effect,” a type of classical conditioning .

This type of training works well with other animals, too. For example, dolphin trainers have been using “whistle training” since the ‘60s. Karen Pryor was one of the original marine animal trainers who made clicker training a global trend. She introduced pet owners to the dog clicker training technique we know today.

Top benefits of clicker training dogs

So what are the benefits of using clicker training versus something else? Here are four reasons to try this strategy:

1. Positive reinforcement

Animals respond well to positive reinforcement. Most dogs are eager to please, and they’re likely to repeat the behavior if there’s a reward attached.

Giving your dog positive feedback can also help to build your bond. You can teach your dog how you want them to behave without having to raise your voice.

2. Clear communication

Training your dog requires consistency and clear communication. By giving them instant feedback, they can associate the behavior with the reward.

The key is to use the clicker at the precise moment the dog performs the action. And make sure you do it every time until it becomes a habit.

3. Build confidence

Some dog breeds learn more quickly than others. For pups who struggle through training or are easily distracted, a clicker is a good option to try. The noise is unique, the reward is instant, and they’ll be more open to listening versus punishing them for not. They’ll work it out eventually, and they’ll also get a confidence boost every time you reward them.

4. Reduce anxiety

Because the clicker method of training is consistent, your dog won’t be caught off guard. And knowing exactly what to expect can help reduce anxiety.

Clicker training is a gentle approach that suits dogs with quiet temperaments. Raising your voice or using punishment as a way to train your dog can lead to negative outcomes later on — and it’ll certainly hurt the bond you two have.

What to know before you start clicker training

If you’re thinking about using a clicker for training purposes, there are a few things you should know. 

Choose the right clicker

There are a range of clickers out there. Try to choose one that feels comfortable in your hand because you’ll be using it regularly. It’ll also have a distinct sound, so don’t mix and match your clickers — stick to just one.

There are budget-friendly plastic options as well as advanced models with adjustable volume settings.

Introduce the clicker to your dog

Now that you’re comfortable using the clicker, it’s time to introduce it to your dog. They may ignore it at first, so don’t expect results right away.

Start by clicking the button, and immediately follow up with a treat or reward. This will help your dog understand that the clicker’s sound means they’ve done something right.

Use the clicker consistently

When it comes to clicker training, consistency is key. Use the same clicker sound and follow up with the same reward every time to avoid confusion.

Choose a calm environment when teaching your dog basic commands. And don’t push them for too long. For example, do four training sessions per day, each under 15 minutes.

Practice, practice, practice

Don’t forget: learning a new skill can take time. Clicker training is a commitment, and both you and your dog will need to keep at it before it becomes comfortable.

And we can’t stress this enough: you’ll need to get the timing right for it to work. So practice your clicking prior to starting with your dog.

If you use the clicker consistently every day, you can gradually increase the difficulty of the behaviors you want to teach your dog.

Tips and tricks for success with clicker training dogs

Click-and-treat dog training is a simple and effective way to teach your pooch new tricks and behaviors.

Here are our top tips to help you get it right:

Start with simple commands

This type of training will be new to your pet and might feel overwhelming for both of you at first. To make the process easier, start with simple behavior training.

“Sit” is a basic command and something your dog should pick up quickly. “Come” and “stay” are also good options for your starting line-up.

Once your dog starts to understand these commands, you can set more difficult goals, such as “leave it” and “heel”.

Use high-value rewards

Each time you “click,” you’ll need to give your dog a reward. Treats have different values, and the reward needs to be worth the effort — especially if you’re also trying to stop your dog from getting distracted by something else.

A small piece of plain chicken or hotdog is a high-value reward. Over time, you can make it more difficult for your dog to earn the treat — but because it’s high-value, following your commands will still be worth it to them.

Your dog won’t always need a treat immediately after clicking. Once they start correlating the clicker with good behavior and reward, you can start limiting the treat reward to only new commands or tougher sessions.

Timing is everything

As mentioned already, timing is everything. You have to determine the right clickable moment and give your dog the reward immediately.

If you click too early or wait too long, your dog may associate the reward with another behavior. You have about a two-second window to click and treat for your dog to understand what command or behavior they’re getting the reward for. 

Avoid punishment

Clicker training is a gentle training method based on positive reinforcement. It can take time to develop new habits, but patience is essential to your success.

While it can be frustrating when your fur baby makes a mistake, try to ignore it. Punishing your dog can cause unnecessary stress. 

Instead, make a big deal out of the “right” behaviors. 

Keep training sessions short and fun

Training your dog is a long-term commitment. Learning new skills isn’t something pups can do in a day. We can’t master something after the first try, why should we expect them to?

The training process is a bonding experience. And you can make learning fun with multiple short, daily sessions. Your dog will enjoy spending time with you when it feels like a game to them.

Clicker training can work for just about everyone. Give it a try — it may be the perfect solution for you and your dog.