6 Tips for Clicker Training Your Dog

Clicker training your dog can be a fun way to build a relationship with your dog while teaching him to think. Clicker training is based on developing a "thinking dog" by having him work for his rewards by guessing what you want him to do. Your job as a clicker trainer is to click at just the right moment so your dog isn't confused about what you want him to do.

Tip 1. Charge the Clicker

How does your dog know that hearing a click is a good thing? This process is called "charging the clicker." To do this, simply click the clicker and give your dog a soft, meaty treat that he just loves. Repeat this until your dog comes running when you pull out the clicker. Then you can start making your dog work harder to get the clicks.

Tip 2. Start Small

When you first begin making it harder for your dog to earn a click, start clicking for something that he does naturally. For example, if your dog often paws you for attention, click each time he lifts his foot and teach a shake as the first behavior. If he likes to bring you his toy, click as he starts to walk toward his toy.

Tip 3. Break Behaviors into Small Pieces

When using the clicker to train a new behavior, you aren't using lures to guide your dog into the proper behavior, so you must break the behavior into small enough pieces that you are clicking frequently. If you expect too much, you will be waiting too long between clicks, causing your dog to forget what he's doing.

If you want to teach your dog to pick up his toy and take it to his toy basket, your first click will be when your dog looks at his toy. When he looks away, ignore. When he looks back, click and treat.

Tip 4. Make It Harder

When your dog is eagerly looking at the toy without pause, the expectations can increase. Now, stop clicking for just a look and begin to click when your dog walks toward the toy. Only raise the criteria when your dog has obviously figured out the previous criteria and repeats it several times.

This may sound like it takes awhile, but eager dogs quickly figure out the criteria and keep the game moving. If you or your dog start to get frustrated, end the training session and try again later. Optimal time for training sessions is only 5 to 10 minutes.

Tip 5. Click Accurately

The timing of your click is the most important aspect of clicker training. Inaccuracies can make learning difficult, which is frustrating for both you and your dog. If you are trying to click for looking at the toy, click the instant the dog looks at the toy, even if it's only briefly. Make sure you observe each time your dog looks at the toy and click immediately.

Tip 6. Add Words Later

Clicker training avoids the use of words or lures to mold the behavior, so avoid your inclination to give your dog the answer. Don't add a command until your dog is offering the entire behavior with regularity. Then, you can put it on command and expect your dog to understand.