Dog Clicker Training is a technique that has been around since the late 1960s, but is now more popular than ever. Clicker training is a scientifically proven way to train dogs based solely on positive reinforcement.
Put simple, the dog is taught that the clicking sound is a positive things. Just like saying “good boy” or “good girl” except more effective.
Understanding The Method
A Clicker is a small device that makes a distinctive sound when when the button is pressed. Once you’ve trained your dog to associate this sound with rewards he or she will quickly learn that positive reinforcement is coming in the form of a treat. The clicker sound itself is not the reward, but an indication that the correct behavior has been performed and a reward in on it’s way.
Timing is Everything
The most important skill to learn with clicker training is learning the correct timing. The click should always be during. For example, if you’re trying to teach your pup to lie down, you don’t want to click after they’ve already gotten up.
If the dog stops the behavior such as sitting or lying down when you click, that’s perfectly normal. In-fact, the more they learn what the click means as you get further into training the more likely they will stop and wait for their treat.
The basic clicker training techniques is to try and teach your dog to do a particular trick or behavior like you normally would (these are normally called “practice sessions”), but involving the clicker once they perform the action or trick correctly then rewarding them with a treat.
An alternate technique is to wait and try to catch your pup in the act and reenforce it with the clicker and a treat. This technique is useful if you’re not planning on being very strict with training and don’t mind it happening on it’s own time. There is nothing wrong with doing both of these techniques either (eg. continue with regular training (practice sessions), but also reenforce natural good behavior).
Proper Clicker Charging
The term “clicker charging” simply refers to teaching your dog what the clicker means when they hear it. To begin clicker charging/training simply repeat the process over and over about 10 or so times. If it appears that your dog doesn’t react to the clicker alone after a while, the most common cause is the treat you’re giving them isn’t reenforcing enough. Use your pup’s favorite treat if only for this beginning stage.
Don’t reenforce with treats and click simultaneously. Your dog will not understand the relation between the two this way. The proper way is to wait a one to two second beat in between the click and rewarding the treat. Click. Pause. Treat. This will teach the meaning of the clicker. Another thing to avoid is extending your arm out while clicking like you would with a TV remote. This sends mixed signals just like giving the treat simultaneously since you make this motion while giving a treat.
It’s good to start conditioning a word that your dog will recognize in times that you do not have the clicker to reenforce an action early on. This is a word that you will use in place of the clicker after training.
Try not to pick a common everyday word(s) like “Good Dog” or “Good Boy/Girl” because other people will be saying this to your dog often and will confuse/desensitize them about it. I recommend picking a work like “Yes” or “Yep” instead. Okay sure, these are very much everyday words, but not everyday words to your dog that are said to them often or by others.
To begin word conditioning you will start the same way as clicker charging with the only difference being using the the conditioned word. Begin by clicking and saying the word at the same time then rewarding a treat. Do this 10 times before alternating between using the clicker and just saying the word. Decrease the amount of clicks until your dog reacts to only the newly conditioned word.
Learn to Use Shaping
If you’re trying to each your dog to go fetch your slippers, he’s not going to get it in the first try right? You need to teach them each step of the process. Training him where you keep them, how to open the closet, how to grab both of them at once, etc.
This is what shaping is for. Let’s use a simpler example; flipping on a light switch. slowly guide your dog through the trick using the clicker and giving treats after each step. As you continue with this trick’s training, slowly remove the treats and rely solely on the clicker. Keep repeating the trick with your dog using the clicker and move faster each time until they get the hang of it. Teaching tricks with training isn’t usually a one day process (depending on the trick of course).
The main thing to keep in mind while practicing clicker training is patience. Rome wasn’t trained in a day (or something like that…). All dogs including German Shepherds are some of the most intelligent domestic animals and will learn almost any trick with the right training and practice.
We hope this guide has set you on the right track in Clicker Training and as always, feel free to leave a comment down below with your own thoughts and opinions!