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Clicker Training 101: What Is It and How to Do It?
Sep 11, 2017

What is clicker training?

Clicker training is a simple concept with a long history. Based on a theory called operant conditioning, clicker training was first tested by animal behaviorists in the early 1940’s. Through careful study pioneering, behaviorist couple, Marian Kruse and Keller Breland found a breakthrough concept with clicker training. Over their lifetimes the two worked with more than 150 different species and close to 15,000 individual animals.

Almost five decades would pass before the method truly began to catch on. In the early 1990’s marine mammal trainer Karen Pryor along with partner Gary Wilkes began to popularize the method with dog owners through training seminars. Today clicker training has become the most popular animal training method in the world.

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Interestingly enough, the clicker training process has actually inspired some of the coolest “Doggy Tech” toys on today’s market. For instance, Furbothe treat tossing dog camera actually took input from clicker trainers during the design process. Before a treat is tossed, the system emits a clicker sound, giving dog parents the opportunity to clicker train from their office!

Related Post: 5 Reasons Every Dog Needs a Furbo Dog Camera

Why do you need a clicker to train your dogs?

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Studies have shown that without the benefits of language animals learn best when they are rewarded during the performance of the desired behavior rather than after completing it. While this seems like a minor difference, the reality is that the more quickly your dog can understand which of her behaviors she is being rewarded for the more enjoyable the experience is for both of you.

With basic commands such as “sit” and “stay” it’s fairly simple for her to discern what you want from her. But as the desired behaviors become more complex she is tasked with deciphering a foreign language. For instance, when asked to heel, is she being praised for staying at your side or for coming on command? How long is she expected to maintain the behavior? The quicker she is able to discern this, the better. Clicker training, when done properly, is a simple and district way of telling her, “That’s Right!”

How to clicker train

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Though it evolved from some fairly complex research, you don’t need to be intimidated by clicker training; the process is actually quite simple. Below is a quick step-by-step guide that will help you and your pup master the technique, we’ll start with a simple “Sit” command:

1. Help her understand the command

If she’s not familiar with the “Sit” command this is a quick and easy way to start:

  1. Get her attention with a sound or treat
  2. Show the treat while holding it just above her reach
  3. Wait for her to settle down, say the word “Sit” and then start moving toward her

These actions will almost always put her into a seated position.

2. Just as you see her but hit the ground click and immediately treat.

3. Get her to stand and repeat the process.

Related Post: 5 Steps to Train Your Puppy to Be Home Alone

The Do's and Don'ts of Clicker Training

Do:

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  • Watch for a clue that she understands the command and is starting to follow through; experts often say that clicking a split second before she’s completed the task is most effective.
  • Keep the mood light and the session fun.
  • Limit sessions to 15 minutes. (This can increase or decrease depending on your own pup’s interest level and attention span)
  • Begin practice sessions after she’s had a fair amount of exercise; a wound up dog has trouble concentrating.
  • Expect her to experience training regression from time to time. This is a normal part of a dog’s learning process as new behaviors are committed to memory.
  • Use tiny treats; pea sized treats work great as long as they’re something she likes. Too many large treats and you’re risking her waistline!
  • Watch a few YouTube videos from various trainers; this will give you insight into how a training session looks.

Don’t:

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  • Scold her if she makes a mistake, she wants to get it right-make sure you’re not making the session stressful.
  • Compare her progress to that of other dogs. Be patient and understand that dog’s learn at different paces.
  • Keep the session going if one of you is angry or frustrated by the process.
  • Repeat the command, if she doesn’t follow through try leading her with the treat. Repeating a command sends the message that her compliance is optional.
  • Teach her more than one command until she understands the clicker and what it means.
  • Punish or scold her after she hears the clicker noise, it builds a negative association.

Once your pup has mastered some simple commands she’ll begin to understand the meaning of the clicker. This opens the door to a million fun and creative things that you can teach her. I recommend checking out some YouTube videos, you’ll be amazed at the things dogs can pull off once they’ve mastered clicker training

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