What is Clicker Training?
Clicker Training is an animal training method that relies on marking a desirable behavior and rewarding it.
A clicker is a small plastic device that fits in your hand, with a button makes a distinctive “CLICK” sound when pressed. To your pet, the “click” will mean only one thing: a reward is coming because of what I did when I heard the click.
Why use a clicker?
Even when saying the same word, your voice may sound different each time with variations in tone, pitch, or volume. This can be confusing for animals. The click sounds the same every time it is heard; its meaning never varies.
Clicking is like taking a picture of the desired behavior. After “taking the picture,” you give your pet something he likes, usually a small piece of food but sometimes play, petting, or other rewards.
The click buys you time to reward your pet. For example, when teaching your dog to lie down, how do you make it clear you are rewarding his belly on the ground? You have to make sure the reward is given while your dog is lying down rather than when getting up to get it. Otherwise, your dog might think the reward is for standing up or walking toward you.
How do you use a clicker to train a behavior?
Begin by “loading the clicker”. Click and give a treat without asking your pet to do anything. This helps him learn what the sound means. Do this several times in a row and your pet will soon learn that something good is about to happen when he hears this sound!
Next, choose a desired behavior. For example, if you’re training your dog to sit, you would wait for your dog to offer the behavior naturally and click at the moment your dog’s butt hit the ground then follow with a reward. Soon, you can pair the action with the word “Sit”. Eventually, the click isn’t needed as your pup will know what to do when he hears the word.
What behaviors can you train with a clicker?
Any behavior can be clicked and rewarded. “Take a picture” of any behavior that you like and want your dog to repeat. For example, perhaps you see that your dog kept all four paws on the ground for a split second when greeting guests at the door. Click–treat!
It’s also useful for shaping behaviors. Shaping involves building a complex behavior through baby steps. I trained my dog, Wren, to get into a box by gradually clicking behaviors that were close to what the end goal was.
Look at the box? Click-treat!
Approach the box? Click-treat!
One paw in the box? Click-treat!
Four paws in the box? Click-treat!
Lay down in the box? Click-treat!
Clicker training can also help with a shy or timid dog. Each time the dog looks at or attempts to approach a new object or person you can click-treat to reinforce that good things happen.
Can you train any animal with a clicker?
Yes! First widely used by dolphin trainers, clicker training can be and has been used successfully with animals of all sizes and species, both domesticated and wild, young and old; all breeds of dogs and puppies, cats, birds, leopards, rats, rabbits, chinchillas, fish, and more.
I taught my guinea pigs to target using clicker training. Targeting helped them to learn how to go up a ramp when I expanded their enclosure to include a second level! Knowing that a treat was coming if they touched the target, I lured them up the ramp by following the target then rewarded at the top.
Remember that the click tells your pet, “Yes! That’s correct. You’ve just earned a treat.” So be careful what you click for!