Clicker training will change your relationship with your dog forever.
You want to start clicker training, and you want to start today. My original plan was to explain how to start using a clicker in a much longer and in-depth article. There I would not only provide clear instructions on getting started, but also explain the important connections of this powerful tool to the foundation of behavioral theory, operant conditioning. However, my email, website, and Facebook account have been full of messages making it quite clear that you all want to start NOW.
Your wish is my command.
Before I proceed, I must make something perfectly clear. The key to your eventual success using this tool is understanding the science behind the tool/technique. The process I am about to describe takes a minimum of a week, and many times two weeks. During that period you need to take some time and do a modest amount of reading. The good news is I will provide you with ALL of that via my blog. There are already links in this article that will help you build your foundation.
PHASE 1 – Loading the clicker
Yes, eventually we will use the clicker to mark or “capture” moments of desired behavior in your dog that we want to see again. That’s the whole point. The clicker is proven to be far more effective than your voice at helping the dog learn exactly what you want it to do. When using the clicker in that manner we will be utilizing operant conditioning to shape and control the dog’s behavior. But first things first.
I’ve used a clicker before and it doesn’t work, my dog doesn’t know what it means.
I hear this all the time. If this is you, and you have dabbled in the world of clickerdom’ before, you are correct. You were not successful because the dog did not know what the clicker meant. This is why you must first teach the dog what the clicker means, which is what I am about to teach you how to do.
We must “load” the clicker. This is where we teach the dog that when it hears a click, a reinforcer is going to be immediately on the way. To do this we will rely upon the work of another scientist, Pavlov, and his work with Classical Conditioning. By properly teaching the dog what the “click” means, we will be able to then rely on the dog to work for us in an effort to get us to “click” so it can subsequently receive a reward.
Ok, quickstart guide means, short and quick. You will need the following items; a clicker, a cheap cotton nail apron from Home Depot or Lowes (or any other type of treat bag from a petstore), and dogfood.
- Discontinue feeding your dog using a food bowl. You will feed your dog by hand using the following steps (if you are a raw feeder, I have found that baking some chicken breast and pulling it apart works well). This means you must have a daily amount of premeasured food ready to go. No more “free feeding” in case you were still doing that.
- Find a quiet, boring area in your home or apt, free of distractions, where you are the most interesting thing
- go with your dog to the designated area wearing your treatbag/apron full of dogfood and your clicker
- hold the clicker behind your back
- click 1 time
- reach into the treat bag with your other hand and give the dog a very small amount of food, the smaller the better
- wait until the dog is done chewing and repeat steps 5 & 6
- continue for 20 repetitions or 2 minutes whichever is quicker
- leave the training area and put the clicker, apron, and food away until the next session
- do this as many times a day as necessary to go through the dogs daily food amount
Things to Remember
Your dog does not have to do anything during this process. In fact, if you have a dog who already knows some basic commands from your previous training efforts, try your best to click when he isn’t already sitting or laying down. At least for now, we just want the dog to be making the following association …..
Every time they click, I get paid!
Be sure to walk around the space you are in. Do not just stand in the exact same place. I want you to stand during one of the sessions, then later sit down on the floor for the next one. Bring a chair in and sit on it, then do one session where you are kneeling. The point is, mix things up so that the only thing that remains constant is that there is a click, then the dog gets paid.
This is a great activity to do when coming inside from a walk as when you are done it’s time to chill out for a little bit. Plus, with some of the dog’s energy down it becomes easier for them to actually think about what is going on. Exercise always equals improved clarity for the dog and we want clarity during this process so that the dog can learn what’s going on.
How do I know it’s working?
After a couple days of multiple sessions of random clicking, you’re dog should be starting to get the idea. One day when going to train try and wait until the dog simply looks away or becomes curious and investigates anything other than you. At that moment, I want you to click. If the dog’s head spins around and he comes over to you looking for his food, then it’s working. If he doesn’t, then you still have more work to do.
When you think he/she is getting it, you may then start to do this in places other than your designated training area. I wouldn’t jump straight into the middle of a highway median, but instead start maybe in another room of the house where there might be more distractions. As we did with our body posture, you can mix up the location slowly as a way to help the dog identify the association. Never forget, it’s all about associations.
When You’re Not Clicking
You won’t be doing this 24/7 so that means you have plenty of time to do some required reading. I recently posted an article explaining the foundation to everything we are doing, which is behavior theory known as Operant Conditioning. Click HERE and take a moment to read it. We will be going back to the incredibly important information in the article frequently in the future.
Make sure everybody in the family is aware of what you are working on. While it is best to have one person working with the clicker in the beginning, everybody else must be on the same page to make sure the dog isn’t getting all kinds of treats outside of the work you are doing. All that will do is create more confusion for the dog, and more frustration for you.
I’m Excited For You!
Once we get past Phase 1 you are in for an amazing experience with your dog like no other. This tool and the deeper understanding I now have of operant conditioning has provided me a refreshed look at working with dogs. Plus the added benefit of the smiles and enthusiasm I have witnessed in the people I am privileged to work with.
You and your dog are in for one helluva treat! Literally, and of course, figuratively.
Want Personalized Help?
The beauty of this type of training is it’s simplicity. However, it’s also easy to mess up. I have put together a step by step process that I can personally assist you with from ANYWHERE in the world!
That’s right! I now am offering a variety of training courses virtually via Skype of FB video. This allows me to explain in detail the concepts and techniques while providing you with the critical observations of your application of these skills with your dog. This observation is key to making sure you are communicating with your dog properly and ensures your success.