Clickers are often used for in home dog training and group classes. A clicker is utilised as a marker signal. A marker is any sound you will use to tell your dog when they have done something right. Good timing of the marker is imperative as the exact moment that you make the chosen sound will define the behaviour that you want to continue. We recommend using either the clicker or the word “yes”, as these are simple and concise sounds. A marker MUST always be followed by a reward. It is the marker that points to the behaviour and the reward that reinforces that behaviour.
For the chosen marker to mean anything to the dog, it must first be introduced as a prelude to a treat. We link the sound with the food reward via a process of tuning in to the sound or “charging” the clicker. This is a process of clicking or saying “yes” and giving a treat multiple times, over a few sessions. Treats should be very small and very high value to the dog e.g. fresh chicken, fresh turkey, cheese or sausage.
So how do you introduce a clicker?
This is an exercise that should be repeated over as many sessions as possible for the first week. In this exercise, it’s important to remember that the dog does not need to do anything to get a treat. It will make it easier if you are in a low-distraction environment which is why in home dog training is a great place to start. Click or say your marker word and follow it by giving a treat and repeat. This exercise is purely about creating an association that the marker signal always equals a treat. Even if you accidentally press the clicker or say the word you must give your dog a treat. You will know when your dog is starting to make the association as they will be looking away and when you use the marker word will whip their head looking for their treat.
How do you use the clicker?
Once your dog has clearly made the association between the marker and reward, you can start to mark natural behaviours. These are what you would like your dog to repeat, such as ‘sit’ or ‘keep all four feet on the ground rather than jump up’. You can click a loose leash and click when your dog looks to you for guidance. Remember that whenever your dog hears the click, he or she is learning to repeat the exact thing they’re doing at the time. So don’t click to get their attention when they’re running away! Remember you can replace the click with the word “yes”. We often use a clicker when we first start in home dog training. As the sound is the same regardless of who is training.
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