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Clicker Dog Training: Step One

Charging the Clicker and a Few Other Pointers

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons  
clickers come in a variety of stylesReady for your clicker dog training adventure?  Can't wait to get started?  There is one critical step you need to take before training your dog with this method--charging the clicker.  

If you've read my first clicker dog training article you know that clicker training uses the scientific approach of classical conditioning.  But, instead of ringing a bell like Pavlov, you'll use your clicker to let your dog know a treat is coming.

So, you need one or two preliminary sessions to teach your dog to associate the sound of the click with getting a treat.  Most dogs catch on very quickly.  Here's how it goes. . .
Take your dog to an area with few if any distractions.  Don't give your dog any commands--just click and treat.  Then do it again-click/treat, click/treat, click/treat and so on several times.  Take a short break. Maybe five minutes.  Then click and treat again.  If your dog starts looking for a treat when he hears the click, you'll know he's making the connection.  

Once you think he's "getting it", end the session.  It's not a bad idea to repeat the exercise a few hours or a day later.  You want to make sure the connection between the click and the treat is firmly established in your dog's mind.

That's it!  You are now ready to begin clicker dog training in earnest.

You may be asking yourself at this point, "Do I really need a clicker?  Can I just say 'good dog' and treat instead of using the clicker?"  Well, you could.  But your mileage may vary.  The clicker as a training tool provides a consistency of sound and pitch that the human voice does not.  

Also, if you find yourself saying your cue phrase--"good dog!", "right!", "yes!", etc.--when you aren't training and don't have treats available, your dog could become confused and the cue phrase could lose its potency.  

Clickers are very inexpensive.  The fancier ones are mostly under $2 and some pet supply stores have been known to put their logo on the back of the basic plastic box type and give them away for free.  

Finally, here are a few tips to help you on your way with the clicker dog training experience beyond charging the clicker:


  • Don't use kibble (dry dog food pellets) or hard biscuits pieces for training. Make it special.  Soft, tasty treats that are bite-sized and don't require a lot of chewing are best.  Some pet supply stores now carry pre-packaged "training treats" designed for clicker dog training.
  • If you are on a budget, there's no need to buy commercial treats. Table scraps and leftovers are great to use for training. Slice up some hot dogs, cut up leftover chicken or anything else your dog likes--and you're good to go.
  • To keep things interesting, don't use the same treats at every session.  Vary things up.  Surprise your dog.  
  • Notice which treats your dog loves best and make it a point to use them when you are teaching something new or difficult.  Also, use high-value treats when you are initially charging the clicker.
  • When your dog has a training breakthrough or does something particularly impressive, mark the occasion with a "jackpot" reward (several treat pieces at once).
  • Train when your dog is hungry--not right after a meal.  You'll want to compensate for the treat calories your dog is consuming by feeding smaller portions for meals.
  • For the vast majority of dogs, food is the strongest motivater on the planet and gets the best training results.  However, if your dog is truly indifferent to food treats, reward him with what he cares about most--petting, belly-rubs, fetching a ball or frisbee, a moment with his favorite toy. . . 

The Clicker

  • For best results, use the clicker--not your voice--to mark the behavior you want.
  • Timing is everything when you are marking behavior with the clicker.  Ideally, you want to click while the behavior your want to mark is taking place. For example, if you are teaching "sit", click the moment your dog's bottom reaches the ground.  Then give the treat.
  • Never click unless you are going to treat.  By charging the clicker, you've paired the sound of the click with getting a reward. Inconsistency will confuse your dog and dilute the effectiveness of the clicker as a training tool.
  • It's a good idea to clue other household members into what you are doing with clicker dog training.  Children are especially prone to view the clicker as a toy.  You want to avoid having a child running through the house clicking randomly for the fun of it.  Or worse yet, inadvertently teasing your dog by using the clicker to get your dog's attention and then not giving him a treat.
  • Consequently, if your children are mature enough to participate in the clicker dog training effort--include them if they are interested. It's a great way for kids to learn responsibility, respect for animals and develop a special bond with the family pet.  
  • On the other hand, if your children are too young to understand and follow the principles of clicker dog training, it's best to make the clicker off-limits for now.
Ready to learn how a clicker dog training session might go?  

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