Clicker training is a method of training that uses a “clicker” to tell the dog that they have done the right thing and reinforcement for that behavior is coming soon. The clicker makes a short sound (similar to pressing the “button” on the top of a Snapple bottle) that the dog quickly learns to listen for whenever they are learning a new behavior. The sound is short and consistent, making it a more obvious marker to the dog than simply using your voice. Sometimes for one reason or another, the click sound isn’t the right option. If that’s the case, we will choose another sound or a unique word to mark correct behaviors.
Though we don’t require the clicker, it usually makes training easier as it allows the trainer to mark the correct behavior at the exact moment it happens, which is extremely important in training. Telling the dog what the right behavior is at the exact moment he is doing it helps them learn more quickly since he has a much better understanding of why he is receiving his reward when he gets it a few seconds later. It also helps the human who is working with the dog to be more aware of exactly which behavior they are marking and reinforcing.
Using a clicker in training also makes it easier for the person who is training the dog to “shape” small pieces of behavior, in order to build a full behavior. This allows the dog to have a lot of success throughout the training process, which makes the training fun for them. The shaping process helps dogs build confidence and trust, and it causes them to think about the behaviors they are offering, making them an active participant in the process.
Clicker training uses positive reinforcement behavior psychology to reinforce the behavior the dog has performed, causing the dog to do it more frequently or on cue. Dogs (as well as any other thinking animals) do what works to get things they want and need.
Pairing positive training methods with the ease and specificity of clicker training teaches dogs to try different behaviors until they hear the click. The click lets the dog know which behavior was the one that “worked”. This behavior can then continue to be reinforced by clicking and giving a treat, and when the dog clearly understands the behavior, you will no longer need the clicker for that behavior. Any time you want to clean up an old behavior or teach a new behavior, you can use the clicker again. You will soon be impressed by your dog’s ability to think and to reliably respond to your cues and act appropriately in social situations!