So, What is a Clicker and Why Do I Need One?

So, What is a Clicker and Why Do I Need One?

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So, What is a Clicker?

A clicker is simply a tool used as an event marker. When the dog performs the desired behavior, you click! The click tells the dog, in uncomplicated black and white, exactly what they did right. They begin to associate the click with a reward.

There are many reasons we use a clicker as the event marker:

    • A click is a sound that a dog won’t hear in any other environment. It means, without a doubt, they did something right and a reward is coming!
    • It’s not emotional like your voice. You can say the same word in many difference ways and the tone in your voice and your body language can tell the dog many different things. A click only means one thing.
    • You can start training immediately instead of waiting to build a relationship, because clicker training actually builds a strong and solid relationship.
    • Training sessions can last longer. The clicker hold’s the dog’s interest and they stay motivated because there aren’t any distractions, just the dog, the behavior, the clicker, and a reward.
    • It becomes the greatest game on the planet. It’s their goal to figure out what makes you click and give up the treats!

Getting Started:

Here are the 3 simple and easy steps to clicker training:

  1. Get the behavior (I’ll talk more about how to get the behavior later)
  2. Click to mark the behavior
  3. Reinforce the behavior with a reward

Loading the Clicker:

There is a process calling “loading” or “charging” the clicker. It makes a positive association with the clicker by helping the dog to realize that the sound means food is coming. Some trainers still load the clicker while others just jump right in and start. We now know it’s necessary to load or charge a clicker anymore. It’s no doubt the clicker will “load” itself in just a matter of minutes.

    • If you choose to load the clicker:
      • Sit in the floor with your dog and click, then give them a treat. (It’s important to remember that you should click BEFORE reaching into your treat bag.)
      • Do this over and over for a few minutes.
      • Most dogs will pick up on the fact that the click means food is coming within the first 10 to 20 clicks.

What's Next?

Think about how you would teach any person or child to do something. Would you take their hands and move them, performing the tasks to accomplish the goal? Or would you coach them verbally until they figured out how to complete the tasks? Your end goal should be to teach them how to complete the tasks at hand, but also leave them with the knowledge and confidence in themselves to complete new goals given to them at any time. You want to train your dog in this same way. You want to give them some guidance by letting them know which behaviors they perform are right and which are not so they can progressively move towards finishing the task, but you also want them to have to figure things out so they learn how to problem solve and complete future goals. In clicker training, you can do just that. There are different methods to achieving the end goal, and at the end, no one should be able to tell which method you started with.

Before We Start:

  • Timing is crucial in clicker training.
    • You are communicating with your dog the exact behavior you want them to repeat, so be sure to click at the exact moment your dog sits, and not when they pop up in anticipation of a reward.
  • It’s also very important to remain completely quiet during training sessions.
    • Don’t add any distractions to the environment by talking.
    • The click is enough reward for your dog. They don’t need to hear “good boy!” after each behavior.
    • At the end of the session, reward them with tons of verbal praise and petting.
  • It’s important to note that you shouldn’t have your hand resting in your treat bag. It’s too distracting for your dog. Be sure to wait for the behavior, then click, and then reach into your bag for a treat.

Notice Dolcezza is performing the behavior asked of her, but because my hand is already in the treat bag, she's looking around me instead of making eye contact with me. Keep your hand out of the treat bag!

Here, I don't have my hand in the treat bag so she is very focused on me and what I'm asking her to do. She will get a click and a reward, but in the right manner.

Capturing

Capturing is acknowledging and rewarding a naturally occurring behavior. For example, if every time your dog sits you click and treat, they will realize that’s the behavior you want and continue it.

How To Capture:

  • When you see your dog doing something that you like, click and treat your dog. You are capturing a natural behavior.
  • With your dog in front of you and your clicker in your hand wait patiently until the dog offers a sit.
  • The instant the dog sits, click, and without saying a word reach into your treat bag and reward your dog.
  • When you give the reward, bend down to your dog and try to put the treat in their mouth before they have the opportunity to jump up. Don’t encourage jumping by treating when they have feet off the ground.
  • If you have trouble with your dog not being attentive, put them on lead. This way they have to stay near you and will eventually do some type of behavior that you like and can capture.
    • For example: If your dog is just rolling around on the floor chewing the lead, wait patiently until they stop, even for a second, then click at that very moment and give them a treat.
    • They won’t know what happened, where the treat came from, or what to do to get another one, but they will be more in tune with you and eager to figure out how to get another treat. Most likely, they will be very focused on you and you now can click and treat the eye contact.
    • It’s a game. Once your dog figures out the game, clicker training is EASY!
    • Now that you have clicked and treated once, stand patiently and wait for your dog to offer the behavior again. When he does, click immediately, and then reach into your bag for a treat.

Instead of overloading your dog on food and treats, and potentially helping them to gain unneeded weight, portion out your dog’s meals for the day and use their kibble as treats. The small size of kibble makes for a great quick and simple treat and it will prevent them from overeating.

Luring

Luring uses the primary reinforce (usually a treat) to encourage the dog to perform the behavior. This method can be hard to transition from one stage to the next due to the issues that can arise when moving away from using the lure. There’s always the possibility that the lure has become a condition for performing the behavior.

How To Lure:

  • You can use luring to encourage your dog to move them into the desired position.
    • Use food rewards, or a target stick (which I will talk about later), to lure the dog into a down position.
    • When they reach the desired position, click and treat!
    • Be sure to fade the lure out early on. You don’t want your dog dependent on the lure.
      • Fading out a lure means to stop luring the dog every time and try to wait for them to choose to perform the behavior.
      • The goal is to not use a lure at all once the dog understands what we are asking of them.

Targeting

Targeting a similar to luring, but it removes the food reward from the equation.

How To Target:

  • First, you’ll want to use capturing to teach your dog to target
    • Hold a targeting stick behind you and quickly bring it out in front of your dog.
    • Naturally, your dog will want to smell the tip of the stick
    • When they’re nose touches the end, click and treat.
    • Repeat this until your dog is following the stick wherever it is to target his nose to the end and get his reward.
  • Next, you can use the targeting stick to lure your dog and train other behaviors.
      • Use the targeting stick just like you would a food lure.
      • If you’re teaching your dog to sit, you would normally hold a food lure above his nose until his butt touched the ground. Instead, hold the targeting stick above his nose and proceed on as you would with luring.

Shaping

Shaping is the process of breaking down a behavior into a lot of small behaviors to help the dog learn more complex things.

How To Shape:

  • If you want to shape a retrieve, you would first throw the ball out away from the dog.
  • When the dog looks in the direction of the ball, click and treat.
  • He will likely remain looking at you for a bit, hoping for another treat, but when you don’t put out, he will go looking for other ways to get that click.
  • When he looks back in the direction of the ball, click and treat.
  • Repeat until he is consistently looking at the ball and being rewarded.
  • Next time he looks at the ball, don’t click. He will likely look back and forth a few times, but wait patiently until he gives you more duration in his look or even takes a step towards the ball. When he does that, click and treat!
  • Continue on until he figures out that going towards the ball gets him a reward, then picking the ball up gets him a reward, then bringing the ball back gets him the ultimate reward.

Adding a Cue:

  • If you want to shape a retrieve, you would first throw the ball out away from the dog.
  • When the dog looks in the direction of the ball, click and treat.
  • He will likely remain looking at you for a bit, hoping for another treat, but when you don’t put out, he will go looking for other ways to get that click.
  • When he looks back in the direction of the ball, click and treat.
  • Repeat until he is consistently looking at the ball and being rewarded.
  • Next time he looks at the ball, don’t click. He will likely look back and forth a few times, but wait patiently until he gives you more duration in his look or even takes a step towards the ball. When he does that, click and treat!
  • Continue on until he figures out that going towards the ball gets him a reward, then picking the ball up gets him a reward, then bringing the ball back gets him the ultimate reward.

Be Aware

  • Body language is a way that canines communicate and you need to make sure you’re communicating the correct things to your dog.
    • Don’t move about too much, slump over, wiggle, etc. during training.
    • Be still, calm, and only make necessary movements.
    • Remain quiet as well. It doesn’t matter what you say, the tone in which you say it will mean more to the dog. Don’t confuse them. Just be quiet.
  • Every time you click you MUST give a reward
    • If you click by mistake, you still give them the treat.
    • NO MATTER WHAT…if you click, give the dog a treat!!!!

Lottery Method

One misconception about clicker training is that once you start the dog won’t perform a behavior without the clicker. This is totally untrue. You can begin to phase out the clicker and reward using the “lottery method” after your dog is proficient in the behavior. They will still perform the behaviors because they know a reward is coming, they just don’t know when.

    • It’s gambling. You buy the lottery ticket because there’s always a chance of a huge payout.
    • Once the dog is proficient in the behavior and it’s on cue, start to only give a treat reward every other time. Then more to every two times, three times, five times, etc.
    • The dog will continue to perform the behavior because there is a chance he will get that treat reward. Petting and verbal praise will also be appreciated in place of a treat.
    • Don’t ever completely stop giving treat rewards. Would you continue to work at your job if your boss quit giving you a paycheck?
  • After food rewards are phased out, cues are also rewarded during everyday situations.
    • For example, when the dog comes and sits calmly beside you, you reach over and pet them. If they were to jump in your lap they would be completely ignored. The petting is the reward for the appropriate behavior.
    • Rewarding in different ways such as petting, with a toy, a retrieve, etc. leaves the yummy food rewards for learning new and exciting behaviors.

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