What is a clicker?
Clicker is a small and very useful training tool. Usually, it consists of a plastic box roughly a size of a thumb and a clicking mechanism. There are two types of clickers: with a button and with a metal tongue. I prefer the button type, because they are quicker and more reliable.
Clicker is used to mark the desired behaviour as it occurs. You cannot always give the dog treats (unconditioned reinforcement) exactly at the right moment, but you can use a clicker (conditioned reinforcement) to indicate to the dog that you like this behaviour.
Using clicker in dog training
Clicker is a conditioned type of reinforcement, meaning that it works because it is associated with really valuable things that follow it. Clicker works for dogs is the same way as money works for people. You don’t value those rectangular pieces of paper with pictures, you value thing that you can get in exchange for them. However, for any conditioned reinforcement to work, one has to learn that it means valuable things. Young children don’t care about money until they begin to understand that money can buy them things. Teaching a dog what a click means is called “loading a clicker” and is not difficult at all.
Get plenty (40-50) of low-value small treats. You can use dry food, small biscuits, or cubes of hard cheese or vegetables – something that your dog will eat. Then just click and drop a treat on the floor. Your dog may get startled by the click in beginning, but will quickly get used to the sound and will expect treats to follow. You will see when your dog begins to associate a click with treats.
The next step is to practice with easy commands that your dog already knows well. This will help both you and your dog to adjust to a new way of training. You will practice being precise with your timing and to juggle clicker, treats and a leash. You will feel like you could use an extra hand (or a couple). I always suggest getting a treat pouch, which is more convenient that holding treats in your hand or your pocket. In addition, you will avoid getting your pockets and hands all greasy and you will always be ready to clip it on your belt and have an impromptu training session.
Once you and your dog are comfortable, try teaching him some tricks like “high-five” or spinning around. You will see that it is more fun and less work with a clicker.
-always click at the same time as behaviour occurs, not before or after.
-each click must always be followed by a treat.
-never use clicks to get the dogs attention.