Clicker Training 101

Last updated on Dec 12 2016

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 treats) to reinforce and teach the behaviour.

How Does it Work?

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.

Why is a Clicker Better Than Using a Praise Word?

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.

The Basic Process

Clicker training can be used to capture and teach almost any behaviour in many species.

The basic process is:

  • Get the animal to perform the behaviour (for example by 'luring' with a treat).
  • Capture the behaviour with the clicker.
  • Reinforce the behaviour with a treat.

What if My Dog is Not Food Motivated?

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 special toy as a reward.

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.

Posted by Dr Teagan Lever

When Teagan's not busy sharing her knowledge of all things pets as Pet Circle's resident vet, she is the human companion of two intense English staffies and a three-legged cat named Steve.

Suggested for you