Our virtual clicker training course combines knowledge and practical exercises. It exists because we want canine coaching to be positive and fun for you and your dog. This is the first class in the series.
Clicker training is based heavily in scientific studies of the 20th century, specifically psychology and animal behaviourism. It is useful for a wide variety of different animals including marine animals, big cats, and horses but is most widely used for dog training. It is still gaining traction in trainer circles across with world and has shown great promise in improving the lives of dogs and their people.
Clicker training is based in the movement toward kindness and gentleness to our animal friends and is a fun way to properly get to know your dog. Strictly speaking, this type of teaching is not really training at all, it’s communication.
Working with a clicker uses positive reinforcement. This means that something the dog likes happens and he associates it to something he has done. The association makes the dog repeat the behaviour, hoping that the positive result will occur a second time. The more often the pleasant experience follows the behaviour, the more likely the dog is to repeat the act. If we win every time we buy a scratch card, we expect to win so we keep buying them. If we never win, we soon get disheartened and give up on that activity.
As clicker training is positive reinforcement, then the positive reinforcer must be the click. It is the click. Reinforcers are split into two types:
- Primary reinforcers apply only to anything that meets the dog’s primary needs. This basically includes anything physical such as food and reproduction.
- Secondary reinforcers can be linked to primary ones, via a process of association. The clicker is a secondary reinforcer because it must be linked to food.
Making The Link
The best and fastest way for help a dog understand what the clicker means is to “charge” it. To do so take 10-15 pieces of the treat you intend to use in training. This treat should be something delectable and irresistible to the dog, not something commonplace, such as their usual kibble. Nuggets of cheddar cheese and cooked chicken morsels are all excellent treats for “charging” the clicker.
When you have chosen the treat, you wish to use, take the dog to a room without distractions. When he is not paying attention to you, use the clicker. When the dog looks at you because of the new stimuli, reward it with a tasty morsel. Repeat the process of click and treat 10-15 times, in various positions around the room, until the treats are gone. From there, you can move on to training whatever behaviour you want to work on.
At first, the dog may need to be reminded often and you must “charge” the clicker each training session, plus sometimes during the training session. However, as the dog learns, you will have to do so less often. Even if the dog has been trained with a clicker for years, it does not hurt to “charge” the clicker occasionally, just to remind the dog why the clicker is a positive sound. Always treat a click, even if it’s accidental, as the click will only stay magic when associated with food.
Timing is essential in clicker training and it can take years of practice to know when to click. Ideally, the click will be used to end the event. This does not mean clicking when the event ends, because the dog will associate the click with the action he moved on to do, not what ended. Click when the dog is in the middle of the event. For example, if you want them to touch your hand on command, click as soon as the dog hits your hand, not when he hits your wrist. Often, the dog will stop whatever activity it is doing when you click, but that is all right.
To start clicker training, use movements that the dog does often on his own anyway, such as walking towards you or following a movement. Praise movement towards the correct action as well when starting a new action. No dog will be able to do exactly what you want on the first try, so guiding them towards the correct action is imperative. Once the dog understands the training method, you can move on to more complicated commands and actions, building off what has already been learned and becoming more precise in previously learned commands.
Use accidental and voluntary movement. Never force the dog into a position or hold him in the desired position. Not only is this distracting to the dog and improperly using intimidation, dogs tend to be squirmy and object to being forced into things they do not want to do. If you try to force them, ultimately both you and the dog will become frustrated.
Since there is no active punishment, you can use clicker training as a gentle way to fix bad behaviours. Click when all four feet are on the ground instead of jumping on a guest. Click when the dog falls quiet after barking. Click when the dog pees on the puppy pad or outside instead of on the carpet. Positive behaviours are met with positivity, negative behaviours are ignored.
In part two we will start teaching cues and explore the importance of timing in more detail