Clicker training is a method of teaching that can be used on any kind of animal, from elephants to birds, cats and dogs to lions.
It’s based on the concept that any animal will continue to do a behavior if that behavior is rewarded. Clicker training ties this principle to the sound of a click, which is then tied to a quick, food-based treat as a reward. This tells the animal that they’ve done something that their owner appreciates.
A clicker, which can be bought at nearly any pet store, is a handheld plastic or metal device with a button that makes a clicking noise when pressed. Once the basic relationship of the clicker-as-reward is established, then you can command good behavior in your pet with the click of a button!
The first step to clicker training an animal is to teach them that every time they hear the click, they will get a treat. This is known as “charging” the clicker.
The way to do this is to approach your pet with the clicker and a treat in hand (several treats, in fact, as this step should be repeated many times after buying a clicker), and press down on the clicker once. As soon as your pet hears the clicker and turns to you, you reward them with a treat. After a few sessions of this, your pet will associate the sound of the click with a positive reward.
Once your pet understands that the clicker is meant for them, you can move on to one method of clicker training called “catching.” Catching entails clicking the clicker as soon as you catch your dog doing something that you want to enforce as good behavior; for instance, lying down.
As you begin to establish this positive relationship between the good behavior and the clicker, you can begin to remove the treat aspect, and introduce commands, saying the command (such as, “lie down”) before rewarding them with a click.
Remember, clicker training, like any kind of training, takes patience and a positive attitude! Try to keep sessions short, around 15 minutes or less, and to avoid training right after your dog has eaten, so that they stay interested in working for a food reward.
Some people may wonder why they would add in the sound of a click in order to train their pet when they could just use their voice and a treat and cut out the middleman. Clicker training, however, has been lauded by the ASPCA for “creating an efficient language” between pet owner and pet.
Animals may learn up to 50% more quickly using a clicker than using a language reward, such as “good” or “yes” for good behavior. This more precise method can speed up training by creating consistency between you and your pet.