Clicker Training Basics: How to Clicker Train a Dog or Puppy
Did you know that using a clicker or a verbal marker with your dog/puppy can speed up your training?
The issue is — most pup owners have no idea what they’re doing. Don’t worry, I will break down why you should use one, and how to properly use one, so keep reading.
Why you should use a clicker
So many pup owners don’t end up using a clicker because they think, “well I taught my childhood dog Sparky to sit and stay without a clicker…why do I need one now?”
It’s true — you don’t NEED one to teach your pup a new trick or behavior.
The thing is, dogs are an easy animal to train — in general, they naturally look to us for direction (compared to other animals like dolphins, bunnies, or even cats). Meaning, if you’ve ever gotten by without using a clicker or a verbal marker in your training then that’s totally normal.
But if you’re trying to teach your pup more advanced cues (or any cue in a distracting environment), a clicker will speed up training, and help reduce the inevitable frustration that occurs when your pup has zero clue what you’re asking them to do (or your words go out one ear and out the other).
What is marker training or clicker training?
A clicker is a device that makes a click sound and it lets your pup know that they perform the behavior that we asked them to do.
If you don’t have a clicker any single syllable word that you can say consistently can be used instead.
I personally use the word, “YES” as my verbal marker when I don’t have my clicker with me, but of course, this word can really be anything as long as it meets the criteria above.
So…which should I use? A clicker or a Verbal Marker?
I personally use both!
I prefer clickers but will still use a verbal marker if I am out and about with my pup, and don’t have my clicker with me.
The benefit of a clicker is that they make a distinct sound that is consistent every single time. No matter how much we try, we aren’t going to say our marker word as consistent as a clicker, because, well, we’re human.
Also, if the entire family is training, I love that the clicker will make the same sound whether it’s a young child or a grown adult.
The downside of a clicker is that unless you’re a dog trainer, you probably won’t remember to carry it around. Even I don’t always have it with me.
I do love the clicker ring as it’s much more convenient but it’s also a LOT more expensive. A traditional clicker is cheap but annoying to carry around.
How clicker training works.
There is no way we’re going to be able to deliver the treat at the exact moment our pup performs the behavior that we asked for.
For example, if I ask my dog to sit, by the time I get out the treat, he could’ve looked left, he could’ve popped out of the sit, he could’ve barked at another dog…you get it. A lot of things can happen between the time the ‘sit’ behavior occurs, and the treat is delivered.
What can happen is your pup can start to think that ‘sit’ means he touches his butt to the ground and then pops back up! Or ‘sit’ means to sit down and then look left.
The clicker bridges the gap between when the behavior occurs and the delivery of the treat.
Meaning, you’re going to get much cleaner beheavior, as well as clearer communication between you and your pup!
Think of the clicker as a contract that lets your pup know that they got it right and they get a yummy treat!
Fun fact: clicker/marker training can be done with a large variety of animals. If you ever see dolphin trainers with a whistle — this is because they are ‘marking’ the trick and letting the dolphin know to come get their fish!
How to use a clicker with your pup!
Say the cue while standing naturally (or use the hand signal).
Be careful not to already be holding the treat, or your pup will think this is PART of the cue (unless you’re teaching them for the first time…AKA lure training, which is a whole separate topic).
From there, once your pup performs the behavior, click (immediately) and then get the treat out to deliver to his mouth.
Here’s what it looks like:
SIT -> Dog’s butt touches the ground -> CLICK -> Get out the treat
One other note — humans have terrible timing. Before introducing the clicker to your dog, practice on your own.
This is my favorite way to practice timing.
Pick a random celebrity interview to watch, and ‘click’ the clicker every time the celebrity or interviewer says a filler word (um, like, uh, you know, so).
You’ll start to notice how awful your timing is…so keep practicing.
Once you’ve nailed down your timing, it’s time to “charge the clicker” meaning, build the association. All you’re going to do is CLICK, then give a treat. CLICK, give a treat. Repeat several times until your pup looks to you for their next treat when you click. In scientific terms, this is called classical conditioning (like Pavlov’s Bell).
If you want to learn more about clicker training, I go into greater detail in my free on-demand webinar, “The Five Biggest Training Mistakes Pup Parents Make (& How to Avoid Them).”
Start practicing with your pup, and let me know how it goes!