Anyone with a new dog in their home, and even some on a quest to train an older dog, ask themselves “How am I going to train my dog?” One very effective method used for training is the clicker method. It is a method that uses positive reinforcement for good behavior, which can lead to a well trained and happy dog. The clicker method uses a plastic clicker to make a noise at the moment your dog performs a behavior, followed by the use of treats to cement the behavior in your dog’s mind.
Of course, studies have been done on the click training method versus the verbal training method and found that dogs respond equally well to both training methods when they are used in conjunction with the rewards system. That simply means that if your dog is one of the few doesn’t respond well to the clicker, such as shying away or being afraid of the clicker, you can try the verbal command method instead.
Positive Reinforcement vs. Negative Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement means that when you present a desirable stimulus (such as a treat) as a consequence of a behavior, the behavior increases. For example, when your dog sits on command, you give him a treat, and the dog learns the behavior because he expects he will be rewarded for it. This is a highly effective method for training your dog, and the method most often used by professional trainers.
Negative reinforcement is when the rate of a behavior increases because you removed an aversive or unpleasant stimuli, or prevented it from occurring. For example, you verbally reprimand your dog for peeing on the rug, but you do not reprimand him when your dog goes out in the yard. The dog then learns to use the bathroom in the right place through negative reinforcement. While not the best method of training your dog, it can be effective at times.
Reward vs. Punishment
Rewarding your dog for a job well done is certainly preferable to punishing your dog for a behavior you don’t want them to engage in. Punishment has been shown to be less effective in dog training than the reward system. Punishing your dog happens sometimes, but it shouldn’t be your go-to for training your dog. They’ll learn more quickly, and have better retention, if you use a clicker or verbal cues to train them.
By rewarding your dog with a treat after each click, you associate the behavior (such as sitting) with a sound (the click) and a treat (the reward). This helps to cement the action or behavior in the dog’s mind, and helps him to repeat the expected behavior on command.
What Does Clicker Training Mean?
The clicker method is force free, positive reinforcement training. You can think of this method as the easiest way to successfully communicate with your dog. When the dog hears the clicker, they know a reward is coming if they complete the action you’re asking of them. The clicker is both a conditioned reinforcer and an event maker, helping you to mark desired behaviors. The treats you give your dog serve as a primary reinforcer, which generally increases the good behavior.
What Will You Need?
To train your dog with a clicker, you’ll need:
- A clicker (which can be purchased at most local pet stores)
- Small treats or pieces of kibble
- Leash or long lead
- No-pull harness/gentle leader (Please do not use choke or prong training collars)
What Does Clicker Training Consist Of?
As with any training regime, you have to remember that you are being trained at the same time as your dog. You are both learning new behaviors, but you want to make sure that you learn them in the setting that suits your dog best. There are many ways to create a training regime that will work best for your dog, including in home training, small group, and large group training.
In Home Training
Private, in home training is one of the best ways to train your dog in the clicker method. This method particularly suits nervous or excitable dogs, allowing them to learn the new behaviors without triggering bad behaviors as well. A trainer comes to your house to work one on one with you and your dog, teaching both of you how to react with the clicker. You want your dog to perform a task, but then you have to know when to click the clicker, and when to give out the treat for your dog to be well trained. Training works both ways!
Mackenzie Gardner is Off Road Paw’s clicker trainer. Her training certificate is specifically in Clicker Training Basics. Mackenzie will come to your home with a tailored program for your dog’s needs! Individual sessions are great because you and your dog get 100% of her attention. Individual sessions are also great for dogs that are highly distractible. Starting at home where they are comfortable and familiar with the environment is ideal for these types of dogs.
Small and Large Group Training
Small group training consists of a group of dogs and their owners all learning the same tricks at the same time. These classes are great for dogs who are more socialized, and who have good focus even in a distracting setting. It can be a great step up from training at home, to make sure the behaviors you want repeated can be done even in while in a distracted setting.
Large group training helps your dog to retain the behaviors you have taught him while in a highly distracting social setting. Because the group is large, there is not as much focus on each individual dog. Instead the idea is to make sure your dog performs the expected behaviors even in the large group setting.