Clicker Training Your Dog – Fast, Effective & Fun

There are a lot of opposing views on how best to train dogs.  What methods work best to train dogs and solve behavior problems?

jk_sofie_400x400_2The first thing to remember is that it’s just as easy for a dog to learn the wrong behavior as it is for them to learn the right behavior.  We’re looking for consistency to better teach our dogs what we want them to do.

As a behaviorist and a trainer my jumping off point is to put myself in the position of the dog.  Most methods are only directed at the symptoms of the dog’s behavior.  What works best is to address the cause, not the symptoms of the problem.  Also dogs learn new habits very quickly, whether they are good or bad ones.  It’s important not to let the dog learn the wrong behavior.

Consistency is absolutely essential in proper training.  The dog not knowing what to expect causes many problems.  What our dog really wants is for us to do the same thing twice.  Your dog needs to receive the same response from you every time it performs that command correctly.

Are there any tools that can be used in training to help with staying consistent so the dog will learn better?

Over my 22 years as a trainer I can say that, far and away, clicker training is the fastest and most effective method to train dogs.   A clicker is an inexpensive, little metal strip available at pet stores that makes a very distinct sound when pressed and released.  The clicker is used as a unique sound when the dog has done something right.  The goal for the owner is to give the click precisely when the dog performs the command properly and then immediately follow it up with praise and a treat.

The most important thing to remember is that the ‘click’ needs to come at the exact moment the dog has successfully performed the behavior we’re teaching.  The dog will quickly associate it as an indication of success for any new behavior you are teaching. What the dog learns is that when it performs the behavior and hears the click then a reward is coming.  This gives us a fast and easy way to communicate clearly and consistently to the dog that it has done something right.

What are the steps to using the clicker in the right way?

An easy behavior to practice if you’re new to the clicker is the “Sit” command.  Find a quiet place without a lot of distractions and play with your dog a little bit first.  Training should be fun for both you and the dog and something you can both look forward to doing together.

First, we want to get the dog to sit without giving a command.  You may need to guide the dog a bit at first with a lure like a treat or toy.  Just holding it above their head usually works but you may need to move it around a bit.  At the exact moment the dog sits give a ‘click,” immediately praise the dog and then give it a treat.  We do it in that order, click-praise-treat, because eventually we will want the dog to perform the action when there isn’t food involved but we will still praise it every time and begin to make the food intermittent.

Once the dog begins to sit on command you’ll want to teach it how to stay in a sitting position.  All you’ll need to do is to give another click, some praise and a treat before the dog gets up.  It will learn that as long as it stays seated then it will be rewarded.

How long does it take before the clicker isn’t needed?

Once the dog is successfully performing “Sit” and holding the command, the next step is called “fading the lure.”  What this means is that the while you will still praise, you begin giving the treats intermittently.  The goal is to get the dog to perform the command when food isn’t the main motivation.

You can expect to give the dog between 10 and 15 treats a minute during the initial part of the training process but as it starts to learn you will only give the dog a treat every other time, and then every third time and so on.

Timing is everything when adding the command so make sure you give the “Sit” with the hand signal before the dog properly performs the action and when it does; we click, praise and treat.  Soon, you’ll be able to give less and less treats until they are mostly eliminated.

Clicker training works well with all the basic commands.  It takes a little practice initially to get the timing down but once you do you’ll find that you and your dog are working together and you really see the dog “getting it”.  It’s also a fun way for you to bond with your dog who will come to see its lessons as a way of pleasing you and being rewarded because of it.

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