The clicker is an excellent little device to mark the moment your dog does a behaviour you want. Yes, you can say “Good Boy” “Well done” “Yes” but often as humans we are a little late to the game, where as pushing a button – it’s quick and easy. Essentially thats all a clicker is doing. replacing your “Good Boy” vocal marker with a click.
I always pair the click with a verbal cue because going forward, if they do something good out and about, I don’t always have the clicker with me!
1. Pairing the clicker to food
Step 1. Throw some small and soft treats on the ground. Just before you dog eats one, click your clicker and say “YES!” (or whatever vocal you use) If your dog is scared of the noise, place the clicker behind your back or even place it in a sock to begin with. Do this with several treats 2 or 3 times throughout the day, for a couple of days. Rule of thumb, your treats should be no larger than your little fingernail.
2. Charge the Clicker
When you feel your dog is not scared of the noise you can start to “Charge” your clicker. I like to do this with a command my dog knows really well, and that is simply focus. Every time Jax looks up at me I say “YES!” CLICK and drop a treat. Then I mix it up a little and if he sits I will repeat the “YES!” CLICK and drop a treat. This gets him fired up into training mode!
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3. Teach a new Behavior:
So now your dog is focused and ready to learn, you can start what we call “shaping” a new behaviour. We call it this because we are waiting for the dog to figure out what we want rather than luring or forcing the dog to do the trick we are wanting. A great example of this is “touch” You can see the results of a shaped behaviour here:
But just to break it down (and we will use touching a lid for this example) you would hide the lid behind your back and then show the dog, if they look at it you would click, throw a treat away from you and hide the lid again. Bring the lid back out, and see what the dog does, if they sniff it, BONUS. Click, throw treat, hide the lid, reintroduce it. If they paw it or bite it, we dont click, but we dont say “ah ah” “no” or anything like that, we have the patience of a saint and wait for them to think it through and sniff it again. Jackpot. Click, Treat, hide the lid again. So you see, eventually they start to associate “ohhh, if I sniff this thing I get food” Eventually you can phase out the treat and just click, “well done” and do it again. They will understand the Click means I did something great that mum or dad loves me doing! (this is also when you can start adding a cue to your trick) We say “touch” every times his nose touched the can lid. Now he starts understanding thats what this trick is called and eventually we can just say touch and he knows that means nose to can lid.
From here your possibilities are endless, once they associate that click with a positive reinforcement, you can transfer it to clicking when they see another dog and don’t bark. You can click them looking at the mailman calmly instead of barking and going nuts. These are just some examples, but it will come in super handy!
4. Take breaks
Learning a new behaviour for any dog is more tiring than you think. Please don’t do this for any longer than 10 minutes. You can do training several times a day, just don’t flog a dead horse. Once your dog is tired they wont be successful and you will get frustrated. If they haven’t understood the new trick in 10 minutes, who cares. I spent several weeks training Jax to bow, just short little sessions once every 2 or 3 days. He got there in the end, now he won’t stop doing it, but that’s besides the point! He got it and he understands it. Most dogs want to please and they want to be successful. If you are finding they are really not getting it, you have gone too far forward in the process. Go back a little and reinforce the small wins. I always practice short sit stays with Jax to reinforce the long ones, as sitting and staying for 4 minutes is extremely boring for a dog, so keep it fun, at all times!
The clicker can also be used with luring and capturing.
With luring, you use the target or a piece of food to get the dog to offer the behavior, a good example would be to teach your dog to spin. You would use the piece of food to lure them round in a circle, click and throw the treat. But I would stop using the lure as soon as possible and use shaping to finish up the behavior.
With capturing, you click and treat whenever the dog offers a complete behavior. A great example of this is when your dog wakes up and stretches you can click and treat, if you do this everytime they will offer this behaviour more. Eventually, you can also get that on a command and when you say “bow” your dog will perform that stretch.
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