What Is Clicker Training?
Clicker training follows the effective ‘mark and reward’ technique to teach your dog new arts. It is a Positive Reinforcement Training, with the extra facility of a clicker. Efficient dog trainers often use clickers.
Generally a clicker is simply a small mechanical noisemaker, which makes a distinctive clicking sound when you press on it. This training technique is based on a rule of the science of animal learning, which says that “behaviors that are rewarded are more likely to be repeated in the future by animals.” This clicking sound tells your dog “Yes, that is what I want you to do,” and it promises her a reward for a job done correctly. And dogs also are genetically featured to repeat behaviors that get them what they want.
The significance of the clicker is that it tells your dog precisely which behavior you’re rewarding. By clicking at the right time, you can “mark” the moment your dog did what you wanted rather than leaving him puzzled or confused to guess what you liked. For example, if you’re training your dog to jump through a hoop, you click at the exact moment she passes through the hoop.
Though it is mostly used for dogs, clicker training works for cats and some other pets as well.
What is the significance of the Click?
What is special about the noise of the clicker? It’s NOTHING but a way to MARK the exact moment. Plus, the dog doesn’t get it from you outside the training hour. So, he knows that he has to learn something, and when he hears the noise, he knows that he did it.
You may also substitute anything as a marker as long as it’s distinct from other ways you communicate with your dog. If you don’t like using gadgets you can use a gesture or a marker word: You may snap your fingers, blow a whistle, or cluck your tongue. Some people use a marker word like “Yes” or “Good”, but the word must not be used elsewhere. A clicker has some unique benefits in these regards. For a hearing-impaired dog, a penlight would come handy.
Of course, the click or any other marker itself is initially useless unless paired with a reward. The click simply indicates a reward on the way. The important part of this training is consistent timing: Every time the click must mark the correct moment and every click must be followed by a reward.
How Do You Use Clicker Training?
We will assume you shall use a clicker. But if you substitute with something else to mark the behavior, just use it in the places where we say ‘to click’.
Starting to Train:
Practice Your Timing skill:
This step has nothing concerned with the dog; it’s all regarding you. Your goal is to become efficient at clicking just at the right moment. You may practice without the dog in the beginning to improve your timing..
Push and release the springy end of the clicker after making two-tones. Don’t tap it for long and don’t use it in front of the dog for nothing.
Find Perfect Rewards:
Food treats are considered as the best incentives for most dogs. Pieces of freshly cooked turkey or chunks of chicken work well. One dog may go crazy over bits of orange, and another may love bananas. If your buddy would rather work for tug-of-war than edible gifts, play that instead. A reward may be anything that your dog values instantly –a tap, a toy etc. In general, you must use something fit for instant rewarding, so that your dog gets ready to work more and doesn’t stay occupied much with it. (Note: Avoid grapes, raisins, or currants for they may cause kidney damage in dogs.)
‘Charge the Clicker’
It is necessary to introduce the clicker to your dog, and make him enthusiastic to respond to it. This step is called “charging the clicker”. If you’re using anything else instead of a clicker, you must charge that too. Initially, the click has no meaning to the dog. But you have to teach her conscious mind to associate the click with getting a treat. Start with a click and then treat. Do the same three to four time everyday with breaks of 20 minutes. After about 15 turns, your dog learns that the click is the signal for a treat. Once you see your dog start searching for treats after she’s heard the click, you’re ready to move on to the training session.
Entering into the Training:
- Your pup would now be motivated enough to do something to hear the click. Lure him showing the clicker. Make him do something that you want. You may initially use voice commands to instruct him, but very soon you should start depending on cues. Start with easy and regular tasks, something that she is likely to do on her own. (For example: to sit down; to come towards you, to touch your hand with its nose, to lift a paw, to give you her paw, to lift her hind leg, to touch and follow a target object such as a pencil or a toy car etc.). Then gradually move on to unusual tasks for him.
- When she does what you want, click hurriedly. You must click just when the desired act is being done, not after it is completed. The timing of the click is crucial. It would be natural if she stops the act hearing the click. Give the treat after the work is done.
- Practice clicking when your dog does something following your instructions even out of training.
- Click once at a time. Give intervals between sessions. If you want to grow her enthusiasm, increase the number of treats, not the number of clicks.
- Keep training sessions short. Three sessions of five minutes each with intervals between is a more ideal choice than an hour of boring repetitions. Dramatic results in teaching your pet is expected if you repeat the sessions twice a day.
- Click for her voluntary or even accidental movements towards your goal. You may coax or lure her into an activity, but don’t push, pull, or hold the pup. Let her discover how to do the work on her own. If you need a leash for safety during the training, loosen it.
- Initially don’t wait for the “whole picture” or the perfect act to be done. Click and treat for small progress in the right direction. If you want her to sit, and she starts to crouch: click. You want her to come when called, and she takes a few paces your way: click. Gradually delay the click until she completes her assignment.
- Keep raising your desired goal. As soon as you have a good response- start asking for a slightly more difficult behavior. This is called “shaping” a behavior. You have to start to make it harder for her to get the treat. For instance, if the dog has successfully reached a target, try waiting for her to touch the target with her paws before you click and treat. Continue till she gets tired.
- Increase Your Criteria Again:
Now, once your pup is touching the target, give her to touch the target moved to different positions. Any time she touches the target in these new positions, give her a reward. If she looks tired, stop. Otherwise, go on. We won’t count this a complete behavior unless the target itself becomes the cue to her.
- Increase Your Criteria Even More (and more):
Make the requirement for her harder each time. For example, if she is acquainted with touching the target, give her to touch the target with her paws. Then make her hold for sometime. But do not give impossible tasks to her and also don’t be too optimistic. Try to boost her up for success. If she tries more than twice but fails, then you have probably made it too hard. Then you must find a step in between.
- Don’t order the dog around; clicker training is not command-based. If your pet does not respond to a cue, it is not disobeying; it just hasn’t learned the cue completely. Find more ways to cue it and click it for the desired behavior. Try working in a quieter, less distracting place for a while. If you have more than one pet, separate them for training, and let them take turns.
- Reward yourself with breaks from the training. You’re struggling a lot with this job. Take a nap, call on a friend, or do anything that makes you happy. Your pup isn’t the only one who deserves a treat!
- Reward the dogOnly Sometimes. This step requires much patience and care. You have to gradually make her less likely to give up if you ever don’t give her a treat. As the analogy goes between a gambling slot machine and a soda machine: We put money into the soda machine and take it obvious that it would give us the soda. But with a slot machine, we don’t expect every time but remain hooked still. Like us, dogs tend to gamble too, and we shall use that advantage.
Start rewarding intermittently. Use verbal praises instead. Treat her after she fulfills the target first twice, then thrice. Then gradually start feeding her only at the end. This practice would take time to get her used to. She must get used to working without treats.
- Take it to the Road:
It’s necessary for your buddy to know how to perform in a variety of conditions. So, it’s important to practice clicker training in new locations and with more distractions. However, performing may become more difficult for your dog with change of places. So lower your criteria then. You have to gradually work up to the level of perfection.
Start practicing in the yard, on the sidewalks, down the streets, or in the park. Each time the environment changes, your dog might act like she has no idea what the cue means. That would be normal if she isn’t tired or afraid. Then both of you should go through the ‘shaping’ process again, like a fresher. Hopefully she’ll catch up quickly. As always, it is necessary to keep sessions short and upbeat and to always end on a good note.
- If you get troubled with the training, don’t be mad at your pup. Just put the clicker away for sometime. Don’t scold her or do leash-jerking. You will lose the dog’s confidence in the clicker with such attitude. Even, she might lose interest in you.
- If you are not making expected progress with training a particular behavior, you are probably clicking too late, or hurrying too much. Ask a friend to oversee you or consult an animal behaviorist for suggestions.
Utilize the training
- Clicks which are associated as a positive marker in your buddy’s head can be used to shape his character too. Bad behaviors can be corrected by clicking good behaviors. Click for keeping his paws on the ground while receiving the visitors. Instead of scolding while he barks, click for his timely silence.
Start teaching a new Behavior:
You and your buddy should be ready to learn new behaviors by now. Use the same ‘shaping’ process as above. Since, In the process of teaching behaviors, you also teach your dog how to learn from you. Read through all of the steps above carefully and repeat them with new target behaviors. If your pup is ahead of the game, you can as well move faster through the steps. Dogs usually tend to offer the previous behaviors they already know when you are trying to teach them new behaviors. As a result, the first few behaviors learnt using the clicker are the strongest. So you must act economically in this process too.
When your dog has already mastered a new behavior properly, both of you should not need the marker furthermore. After all, the clicker is simply a teaching tool. But whenever you want to teach, shape, or capture a new behavior, the clicker and other markers should always help you communicate clearly with your friend.
Above all, teaching someone is fun – the joy increases when the learner is your dearest pet, with less senses of a man. Clicker training is one of the wonderful ways to strengthen your relationship with your pet. And as a result- Have fun!