Clicker Training: What is it and how do you do it?
Clicker training is a positive training method that identifies and rewards desirable animal behaviours, encouraging them to be learned and repeated. It’s a great way to teach your pet new things, be that basic commands or fun tricks. Your pet learns to understand that the sound of the click means “that’s right” and that a reward is coming. It’s a great way to motivate them and keep their attention.
Timing is everything!
Marking a correct behaviour at the exact time it is performed is essential to your pet’s learning. This allows them to accurately relate what is “right” to the action or behaviour they did. This is why using a clicker rather than your voice to say “good-boy//girl” is more effective as the short, consistent sound of the click can be more precise and meaningful – obviously your timing needs to be good too!
Before you begin you need to have a good quality clicker, some small tasty treats and be in a low distraction, quiet environment so your pet can concentrate.
Charging up your clicker:
When your pet is calm and ready to begin, click once and give them a treat. Repeat this a few times until your pet has become alert to the sound of the click meaning that a treat is coming their way. Once they have worked this out, they should start to look at you for the next treat, before you click. Mark this desirable behaviour with a click and a treat. Well done, you’ve begun clicker training!
Adding a cue:
A cue is a word you want to associate with the action your pet is performing, so that they can perform it when you ask them to. To train this, say the word or cue right before they perform the action, then click (at the time of the action) and reward. As an example, throw a treat for your pet – as they finish eating it, say “look” as they turn back to see if another treat is coming their way, click as their eyes meet yours and reward with another treat. Repeat over a few times until they are reliably looking to you when you ask them to. This is how you can teach a “look at me” cue.
The world is your oyster when it comes to clicker training – whether it’s basic commands like sit, down, stay and recall; or fun tricks like roll-over, middle, leg weaves and much more – clicker training allows you to train your pet in a fun, games based way which is enjoyable for both of you and builds a great bond.
- Use your pet’s daily food allowance.
This will help ensure you don’t over feed them and help prevent them becoming overweight. If you need to use higher value treats, make sure you adjust their meal time allowance accordingly.
- Don’t poison your clicker.
Only use your clicker to mark a correct action when you are training. Don’t use it to try to get your pet’s attention or for any other reason as it will weaken it’s meaning. If you have children, don’t let them play with it or use it meaninglessly around your pet – it’s a training tool, not a toy.
- Keep sessions short and fun.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day” – short but regular training sessions all add up. Consistent training that is fun for you and your pet will add up in thin layers and can deliver better results in the long term as well as building a great bond between you and your pet.
- Set your pet up for success:
Pick your training location carefully. Start in quiet places and build up to busier areas with more distractions. Dogs in particular don’t generalise, so something they have learnt in the kitchen won’t necessarily mean the same to them in the garden or park. When asking your dog for a learned behaviour in a new environment, take your training back to the beginning, making it easy for them to do well.
- Don’t aim for a PB every time!
Vary the difficulty level for your pet, asking for some easy actions that they know well as well as the newer, more difficult ones you are learning, this will allow your pet to succeed, boost their confidence and enhance their ability to learn, keeping it fun and engaging. Even professional athletes don’t get a PB every time they perform!
Not enough hands?
Dealing with treats, a clicker and if you’re out and about a lead, whistle and poo-bags too can be tricky to master – set yourself up for success with kit that makes your training session easy for you to manage:
Clickers that are easy to keep hold of are essential to your success and enjoyment. Lanyards and finger bands to keep them at hand are invaluable!
Choose a treat bag with easy access to allow you to get treats out easily with a single hand. Extra pockets for all you other essentials such as keys, phone etc are also useful.
Clickers that double up as whistles and poo-bag dispensers are also a great way to ensure you have all the essentials you need to take your training out and about.