Why You Should Clicker Train Your Dog

A Clicker

A Clicker. To use, the owner depresses down on the side without the indentations, and the device produces a loud click.

Over the last decade, clicker training has become increasingly popular with dog trainers and dog owners until it has become the gold standard in dog training.  The idea behind clicker training is simple:  using the clicker, or some other relatively instantaneous form of a marker, allows your dog to more quickly learn exactly what sorts of behaviors you are trying to either encourage or teach him to perform on command.  A marker is something that a trainer uses in order to mark the animal’s behavior.  For instance, if I’m trying to teach my dog to sit, I might start by saying “sit!” while my dog is already sitting, and then give him in a treat.  Eventually, my dog will probably pick up the association between me saying “sit,” sitting down and then getting a treat, but it can take quite a while.  (Remember, dogs don’t speak English.)  The idea behind the clicker is that it is an additional form of positive reinforcement for the performing the behavior.  If my dog knows that a click means he has done something right and is therefore getting a treat, it will more quickly build the association between the command, the activity and the treat.  The other advantage to using a clicker is that it is a far more instantaneous form of feedback than saying either “good dog!” or giving him a treat, since it takes a lot less time to perform.  This helps your dog better understand exactly what behavior he is being rewarded for.

A Dog Sitting Down While the Owner Holds a Clicker

Clicker Training

Clicker training is a form of operant conditioning, when an individual modifies his behavior based on its relationship with a given stimulus, and should be used during the acquisition phase of a behavior.  Once my dog has learned to sit, I don’t need to use my clicker every time that he sits, particularly since the association between “sit” and the dog sitting down has already been established.  The clicker is supposed to be a training tool, not a device that needs to be employed for the entire dog’s life.

If your dog is afraid of the clicker, you can still use the principles behind clicker training using some other form of marker such as a whistle (popular for hunting dogs) or a flashlight (popular for deaf dogs).  Good luck and remember, training should be a positive experience for your dog.  If your dog is left cowering in the corner at the end of every training session, you, the owner, are doing something wrong.  Making each training session a positive experience for your dog will make your dog easier to train and happier to respond to your commands.

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