What is Clicker Training?


This is a question that is often asked of me. There is a lot of confusion surrounding clicker training- what it is, what it does and how to use the clicker to change the behavior of animals. The concept has been around as early as the  1940’s. Clicker training is a positive reinforcement method for training animals. It has been used for everything from turtles to whales to elephants to teach everything from tricks to husbandry behaviors such as an Elephant lifting the trunk after washing. 

The clicker allows the trainer to mark a behavior with the novel sound of a click.  The click is swift and most importantly, accurate. By marking the behavior with a clicker, the trainer can more easily pinpoint specific behaviors due to the fact that is brief, distinct, and easy to deliver.  

Would Clicker Training work for my dog?

The answer is most likely yes. Research over the past decades shows that dogs appear to learn much faster when a novel sound such as a click is used to signal reinforcement rather than a verbal cue such as “good boy” or “yes.” The key is the association of the click or reinforcement with a reward.  This reward if often treats, but toys and affection can also be used.

How does it work?

Let’s take “Sit” for example.  If you were training your dog to “Sit,” then every time your dog sits, youwould click and then immediately give your dog a reward or treat.   Eventually, your dog will sit automatically in order to hear the click and get at treat.  At this point, you can add a verbal cue so that you can better control the behavior or you can increase the length of time that your dog has to sit to get the click and treat so that you can teach him to stay. The possibilities are endless. 

Does Clicker Training work? 

Yes! Here is a real-life example. I wanted to teach my dog the cue “calm” which can be pretty tricky.  How can you teach your dog to actually calm down? How can you then control that behavior?  My dog loves the clicker so it actually was a very simple process.  I began clicking whenever she was calm and lying on her bed.  I  reinforced every click with a treat.  Eventually, she just began going over to her bed and waiting calmly for a click/treat.  Over time, I attached this behavior to the cue/command “calm.”  Now, my dog relaxes quickly and I am able to use the cue “calm” to help her behave in intense situations. 

Positive reinforcement training such as clicker training is becoming more widely practiced and sought after.  The simplicity of the concept is what makes clicker training so attractive. My hope is that this brief read will stimulate your interest further in this method. You can find out more about clicker training at www.clickertraining.com.