Training – How To Start Clicker Training

At Star Paws we are huge promoters of clicker training, we have been using this method with our dogs for over fifteen years. This force free, positive training method is a great way to teach your dog  (of any age) anything from their general manners and life skills to trick or sports training. Clickers can also be used to train other animals including cats, chickens, and horses.

In this blog we are going to teach you the fundamentals on how to start your clicker training and also some helpful tips including the do’s and don’ts of clicking.

What Is Clicker Training?
Let’s start with a quick introduction for anyone who may not know what clicker training is. Clicker training is a scientific based training method using a clicker and positive reinforcement.

To start training your dog with the clicker you first need them to understand what the click means, so we need to do something we call charging the clicker and its as simple as click! and treating.

Charging Your Clicker.
What will you need:

A clicker
Small tasty easy to eat treats
A dog

What you need to do:
As we said before its as easy as click and treat. Gather together the above items and whenever you have a couple of minutes to spare during the day, click your clicker and feed your dog a treat. Repeat this a few times a day and for a couple of days, then you need to test to see if your dog is understanding the clicker yet. When they are laying down somewhere, awake but not paying attention to you, grab your clicker and stand in the same room as them. Give your dog a click and if they look up at you and head over to get their treat then you have successfully charged your clicker and can now use it as a training tool. If you don’t get a reaction from your dog, don’t worry, just spend a couple more days just click and treating. All dogs learn at different speeds so don’t be put out of it takes a little longer.

Adding It To Your Training
Once your dog has successfully charged the clicker you can start to incorporate it into your everyday dog training. You need to think of the clicker as taking picture of the behaviour you want the dog to do. If you are after a sit, as the dog’s bottom touches the floor you press your clicker and reward the dog.

Don’t add your cue for your behaviour for the first few repetitions of training, once your know your dog is going to go into that sit position quite easily add the cue just before his bottom touches the floor, click once it’s on the floor and reward.

Reward placement is also a great tool to help you in your training, if we are training stationary behaviours such as the sit. Instead of giving the dog the treat and then having to get them up to start the chain again, throw their treat just to the side, out of their reach so they have to get up to get it. This will make your training flow better and the duration between rewards quicker meaning the dog is more likely to understand the behaviour quicker.

Once your dog has got the behaviour you don’t have to keep using the clicker, just make sure to keep rewarding with treats and slowly fade these out but not completely. If your dog starts to loose a certain behaviour get the clicker back out and do some extra training to increase the reward value.

Do’s & Don’ts
Do – Feed your dog every time you click, even if you clicked by accident or the wrong thing. If you clicked thinking your dog was about to do the behaviour your wanted but ended up doing something you didn’t want, it was your mistake not the dogs so you still need to reward. If you don’t reward clicks the clicker will loose it’s charge and the dog will loose interest.

Do – Keep your sessions short, sweet and frequent. If you train your dog for 2 hours a day, they will most likely become bored, keeping your sessions between 2 and 5 minutes long leaves the dogs wanting to learn more and also gives them time to think about what they’ve been learning.

Do – Give a reward within a couple of seconds when first playing charge the clicker, the dog needs to link the noise with food arriving, if the treat comes 10 seconds after the click the dog has probably forgot about the click.

Do – End every session on a good note, if you’ve been trying to get a certain behaviour such as a sit and it’s the first time you give your dog the cue without any help and they put their bottom of the ground, click and reward them with a jackpot (handful of sweets) and leave your training session there.

Don’t – Click to get your dogs attention, the click means they’re doing something right so if you click when they’re not paying attention to you then you are reinforcing that behaviour.

Don’t – Keep repeating a cue, if your dog is not understanding the cue take your training back a step. This is not a bad thing it just means your dog just needs a little bit more time working things out.

Don’t – Start delivering the treat until your have clicked, make sure you are still apart from pushing the clicker then grab a treat and reward. You don’t want your dog also linking your body movements with treat arrivals.

If your dog doesn’t like the sound of the clicker, try a differ style of clicker of even something like a jam jar lid or click pen. Anything that makes a similar noise to the clicker but a bit quieter. If this still doesn’t work try just using a marker word such as ‘yes’.

If your dog is getting bored and wandering off your training sessions might be too long, keep your lessons to short and frequent bursts. While you’ve put the kettle on and are waiting for it to boil, charge your clicker. Or while the advert break is on whilst your watching television in the evening.

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