Clicker Training for Dogs
Clicker training, or mark and reward training, for dogs is an effective variation of training that is often considered to be part of a positive reinforcement based dog training.
Clicker training is a variation of reward-based dog training focusing on precision and communication. It is often considered a type of positive reinforcement dog training. There are many variations of clicker training and many wonderful ways it can be utilized for dogs.
What Is Clicker Training for Dogs?
With clicker training, we use a signal to tell the dog the exact moment he has earned a reward. It’s named after a plastic and metal device, a clicker, that is an excellent signal. A short description of clicker training is that we make the click happen when we see a desired behavior, and then each click is followed by a reward. The reward typically is going to be food.
Other aspects of clicker training are used in many types of training, including training one piece at a time, gradually increasing the challenge level, and learning to work to earn a reward.
How Does Clicker Training Work?
There are many ways clicker training can be used. An example might be teaching a dog to make eye contact. If we’re training this with a dog who sometimes does this behavior on his own, then we can start with observation.
Wait until he happens to make eye contact. Click at the exact moment the dog’s eyes meet your eyes. Then reach into your pocket or a bowl on the table to pick up a treat, and toss a treat to the floor. This treat placement will have the dog look away (so that he can look back) and be the reward. See it in action here!
Wait for him to look up again and repeat. We might work on this for 1-2 minutes at a time, possibly multiple times daily.
Initially, it may take 30 seconds or more until he looks up, but we should see the time decrease. An experienced dog will eat the treat and automatically return toward us.
Mark and Reward
Sometimes clicker training is called “Mark and Reward” training because the click marks the exact moment the desired behavior occurs. For example, this might be a clicker, it could be a quick light flash on and off for a deaf dog, or it could be a short word or sound like a quick “yes.”
The signal should be consistent, and it is not praise. “Good” is not typically a good marker word because we often use it casually in praise, and it’s hard to say it quickly and precisely. Training with a physical clicker lets us have a high level of consistency.
Clicker Training with Hand Signals
Deaf dogs can learn through clicker training as well. However, instead of a clicker, we can use a keychain flashlight that goes on and off very quickly or a specific hand signal to identify the moment the dog has earned a treat.
How Long Does It Take to Clicker Train a Dog?
Training time depends on the goals, the starting point, the environment where we need the behavior to occur, how complicated the behavior is, and the quality of our rewards. Some skills may be learned in one session, and it may take months or years to perfect other skills, depending on the possible variations.
Just like we are never done learning, dogs can always be learning more too.
Tips for Successful Clicker Training
Here are a few tips for clicker training:
- Start with an easy, such as something your dog naturally does. A laid-back pug might find it easier to start with eye contact rather than jumping up to touch your hand. A more active dog might find touching his nose to your hand easier than holding still.
- Every click should be followed by a treat. While in the past it was common to mix up the rewards, in more modern variations of clicker training, we will use different signals for food and toy rewards.
- Only click for behaviors you like. Dogs quickly learn the sound and eagerly respond to the click. This makes it tempting to use it as a come when called sound, but if we click when your dog is naughty to get him back, he may do those naughty things more often to earn that click.
- Use a different signal if your dog is afraid of the clicker. You can use a word, a quieter sound, or another product. The clicker isn’t the critical part - but the concepts and process.