If you spend much time around dogs and dog people, or if you browse online about dogs, you’ve probably heard of “clicker training.” If this sounds like a mysterious concept or something that you do with trains or automobiles or you wonder if it’s related to flamenco dancing, then take heart. It’s not really so mysterious and it actually is about dogs.
Clicker training is one form of positive reinforcement training. If you know anything about psychology (or even if you don’t), positive reinforcement is a training method where you offer praise and rewards when your subject does something you like. You can use positive reinforcement, and clicker training, to train just about anything. They’ve been used to train dolphins, chickens, children, spouses, and, yes, dogs. It may sound difficult or clinical, but it’s really a very easy concept in practice. For instance, if you call your dog to come to you, you can pet him, tell him he’s a good boy, and give him a treat for coming to you. That’s positive reinforcement. You’re giving him something positive (praise, petting, treat) for doing what you want him to do (coming to you). Positive reinforcement can be anything that someone (or your dog) likes. You can give positive reinforcement to your children by letting them watch television as a reward after finishing their homework.
One of the nice things about positive reinforcement is that you can tailor it to suit your subject. If your dog particularly likes belly rubs, for example, that’s what you can use to motivate him as a reward. Or, if he really likes peanut butter cookies, you can use those as a reward. And so on.
So, how does clicker training fit into positive reinforcement? The clicker is a very inexpensive little gadget that you can purchase at any pet store or from a dog show vendor or even www.dogsden.net . It’s a plastic and metal device that you hold in your hand. When your dog does something that you like you “click” the clicker to “mark” the action. Then you give your dog a treat and lots of praise. Of course, at first your dog won’t have any clue why you’re clicking or what he did that you like. But he will like the treat and the praise. Then the next time he does the same thing you will “click” the clicker again and give him a treat and praise again. If you keep doing this your dog will figure out what it is you like that he’s doing and he’ll begin doing it quickly for you so he can get the reward (the treat) and the praise. It becomes very easy to train a dog who pays attention to the clicker.
Actually, dogs begin learning faster when you use the clicker than when you don’t use it. They can get very excited when they simply see you take the clicker out because they associate it with treats and praise, having a good time and learning. Most dogs enjoy learning with the clicker and it’s fun for them. Training becomes like a game and they will start trying to guess what it is that you like and want them to do. Dogs pay much more attention when you train with the clicker.
That’s what all the fuss is about. You can teach a dog to do almost anything by using positive reinforcement and clicker training. You can train your dog yourself using clicker training or you and your dog can sign up for a class. It’s often a good idea to start off with a basic clicker training class so your instructor can show you how things are done at first. After you get the hang of training using clicker training you can take things from there and teach your dog whatever you feel like teaching him.
Clicker training is a lot of fun for dogs and people. If you’re interested in training your dog think about using clicker training. Your dog will probably enjoy it and so will you.