How To Clicker Train Your Dog
Have you heard people talking about clicker training and wondered what they were on about? Clicker training is basically a way of signalling desirable behaviour to your dog in order to 'capture' it. A good way to think of the clicker is like a camera that takes a picture of the desired behaviour at the instant it occurs.The clicker is paired with positive reinforcement (usually training treats) to reinforce and teach the behaviour.
When animals are trained using a clicker, they are learning through a process known as operant conditioning. In a nutshell, operant conditioning teaches the dog that certain behaviours result in consequences and these either then increase or decrease the likelihood that they will perform these behaviours again.
Clicker training works as part of positive reinforcement. This means that when the dog performs the desired behaviour, they are given something (a click and treat) to reinforce the behaviour, which makes it more likely to happen again.
You may be wondering why a simple 'good boy' or 'yes' will not suffice. One reason why a clicker is preferred is that the click is a distinctive sound your dog will hear at no other time. This means they will very quickly associate the click with a reward for a desired behaviour and nothing else. In addition, the clicker will consistently make the same sound over and over again, in contrast to your voice which may change with the emotion or the meaning of the words you are using. In essence, the clicker is a much clearer and more accurate way to communicate with your dog.
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There are several different types of clicker or whistle to choose from. The choice is entirely up to you and dependent on your preference. There are several types that function as both a clicker and whistle, and also one that has 2 different whistle tones to help to train 2 dogs.
Clicker training can be used to capture and teach almost any behaviour in many species.
Consistency is the single most important thing you can do when training your dog. Everyone who is involved in training should use consistent techniques, commands and rewards when training, to avoid confusing your dog. Set your dog up for success - when teaching a new behaviour, start in an environment without distractions to help your dog to focus. As your dog succeeds, you can start to practice in different environments to solidify the behaviour.
Remember to always reward good behaviour, and ignore any unwanted behaviours - your dog wants to succeed and their incorrect attempts are not 'bad' or 'wrong'. Simply ignore the incorrect behaviours and be sure to capture the correct behaviour immediately.
What if my Dog is Not Food Motivated?
If your dog is not showing interest in practising their training with food as a reward, firstly make sure that they don't have free access to food. If they do love their normal food, then consider dividing their daily ration up into small portions that they have to work for.
Some dogs are just not as motivated by food, which can make training a little more tricky. In place of a tasty treat, try using a squeaky dog toy, game, praise or petting as a reward. When you have identified the best reward for your dog, keep it for training sessions only.
Consider randomising your rewards to keep your dog interested - different dog treats, toys and games can be hugely motivating for dogs and can help to prevent boredom.
With a little practice, clicker training can be a rewarding way for you to build the depth of your relationship with your dog by allowing you to communicate with him very clearly. You will be surprised the difference that it makes to your ability to train him to perform new commands and tricks.