Getting Started with the Clicker

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

Clicker Training for Dogs

Often clients will see us use a clicker to train their dog.  So what exactly is a clicker?  And what is clicker training and how is it different from marker training?

A clicker is a small, handheld item that makes a "clicking" sound when pressed.  There are a variety of types of clickers that emit different sounds as far as snappiness and volume.

Types of Clickers for Dogs

Box clickers tend to be the loudest, and the iClick (white clicker with yellow button) the softest.  The teardrop shaped clickers have a medium sound and fit nicely into the palm of the hand.  We find the teardrop clicker is the most ergonomic.

Creative Ways to use Clickers

Ways to Train Dogs with Clickers

Clickers are generally used in the hand, or with a wrist coil, but you can get creative with how to use a clicker.  We use colored vet wrap to attach clickers to target sticks, grooming equipment, and even the bottom of a shoe (good for stationary behaviors that require both hands). 

What the clicker does:

  • Marks the desired behavior

  • Indicates to the learner they have performed the desired behavior

  • Acts as a "bridge" between the behavior and reinforcement

  • Lets the animal know reinforcement (reward) is now available

How to correctly use a clicker:

  • Condition the clicker by clicking and then feeding the dog.  This establishes a relationship between the sound of the clicker, and a desired treat.

  • Be mindful of dogs that are sensitive to the sound of the clicker.  Also, keep it away from the dog's head/ears.

  • The reinforcement (treat) should immediately follow the click sound.

  • The order is always click THEN treat.

  • This looks like:  Cue (Sit) - Dog Sits - Click - Treat delivered.

  • The clicker is also used during shaping procedures to mark successive approximations of a behavior (more on this in later posts)

How to Train a Dog with Clicker

And we can never find one when we need one! :)

Sounds easy, right?  It is!  But as with everything requiring mechanical skill, using a clicker is simple, but not easy (hat tip to legendary animal trainer, Bob Bailey, for that important reminder). Things to remember:

  • A clicker is like a scalpel.  It can finely slice behavior.  Be careful what/when/how you are clicking.

  • Clickers are used to mark behavior, not an attention getting device.

  • If you mis-click, do you have to feed?  As always, it depends.  If you have a clicker-savvy dog and are a professional trainer you can make your own judgment call.  For new clicker trainers, new dogs and pet owners, I suggest feeding following every click.  The click is assurance a treat is coming and better to save the association.  Simply treat, back up and revise your training plan. 

Does it have to be a clicker?  Can't you just use a word?  Absolutely.  Not everyone is comfortable using a clicker. 

Pros and Cons:

  • Sometimes a trainer needs the use of both hands and a clicker isn't convenient.

  • It may be too distracting for trainer and learner.

  • A sound sensitive dog may find the clicker aversive.

  • The clicker is unique in volume and tone and therefore salient to the learner.

  • Often used words like "good" are weak markers because they predict different outcomes.

  • Not all behaviors require marking (more on this in later posts).

  • Clicker training is fun and empowering for pet owners and trainers.

We hope you have found this information on clickers valuable!

This is first in a series of Training 101 articles we will be adding to the blog. If you have any questions or comments, we'd love to hear from you! Or leave a comment below.  Happy clicking!

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