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Clicker Puppy Training

Clicker Puppy Training

licker puppy training can be used to teach your puppy just about any trick in the book. An experienced dog handler usually takes less than 5 minutes to teach a puppy to sit.

When you start training your puppy, you’ll soon come across the term “Clicker Puppy Training”. Clicker training is a training method that’s widely used nowadays in training puppies and dogs. Clicker training was originally employed to train dolphins and was made known in dog training circles through a book by Karen Pryor titled ‘Don’t Shoot the Dog!’. Meanwhile, the method is used on many other animals, from parrots to elephants.


What is Clicker Puppy Training?

In short, clicker puppy training is a training method that uses only reward to train your puppy – no punishment! Correct behavior is rewarded immediately by a ‘click’ and a treat, incorrect behavior is ignored. Your puppy is thus learning completely voluntarily through positive reinforcement. There’s no pressure and learning remains fun. The very first thing your puppy needs to learn in clicker training is to associate each ‘click’ with praise. This is done by immediately following each click with a tiny treat.

Clicker training derives its name from a small device called the ‘clicker’. You may remember when you were a child there was a little toy sometimes in the form of a frog, which had a little metal strip attached to it. When you pressed this metal strip, it made a loud ‘click-clack’ sound.

The clicker used in clicker puppy training is a very similar device, except that it has been adapted slightly. It comes in the form of a little plastic box with a metal strip inside. When pressed, you’ll hear a loud ‘click’. In clicker training, the ‘click’ sound followed by a treat is used to praise your puppy. You don’t use your voice to praise.

You can buy a clicker at most pet shops. One thing to watch out for though…

Make sure that the clicker you buy has a little string attached or you can attach one to it so you can either hang it around your neck or wrap it around your wrist. This way your hands are free when required. I prefer to have it attached to my wrist.

Before you can start with clicker training, apart from the clicker you’ll also need some treats. Something your puppy really likes and goes mad for! I usually use some tiny bits of dried meat or ‘liver bread’ which I bake myself. These I keep in a little bag strapped to my belt.

In my experience, the best way to reward correct behavior in puppies is using treats. In my puppy training classes, I’ve however also come across dogs that have shown very little to no interest in treats. In such cases, I then throw a ball or toy for the puppy to fetch using play as a reward. This isn’t ideal though. The puppy is distracted too much and for too long before clicker training can resume. When you plan to clicker train your puppy it’s therefore very helpful to feed him only after training.

Why Clicker Puppy Training?

For me the major benefit of clicker puppy training is the complete absence of pressure and punishment in training your puppy. Your puppy will thus associate training with fun and treats. You’ll both love and enjoy his training.

Inexperienced as I was, I trained my first dog, Sidney, rigorously using strictness, pressure, and correction. Although praise was also part of the training, whenever he did something wrong, he was corrected by giving a sharp tug on his leash. The result was a well-trained dog and we did well in various competitions. I always sensed though that he never much enjoyed working. He was difficult to motivate and obeyed only to avoid the negative consequences.

With Peanut, my Jack Russell bitch, I started using the same method. After taking a course on clicker training by a dog trainer coached by Karen Pryor though, I soon switched. Success was almost instantaneous! Mhmmm, yummies! Peanut was delighted and remarkably enthusiastic, sometimes too much so. As soon as she understood that she would get a ‘click’ and treat, learning was no problem anymore.

Today Peanut is already 10 years old, but she still enjoys learning new tricks. I recently timed ourselves how long it would take for her to learn to fall down and lie on her side as if dead. Using clicker training it took us no more than 8 minutes!

The nice thing about using a clicker is that you can ‘click’ the correct behavior the very moment it occurs. For instance, if you would like to teach your puppy to lie down, you’ll click as soon as your puppy lies down. You have to be quick though and not click when your puppy is already sitting or on its feet again. The clicker is thus much quicker and more accurate in praising the correct behavior than your own voice would be.

The clicker also always makes the exact same sound. Compare this to your own voice. It may sound exciting, happy, tired, impatient or angry depending on which mood you’re in. The different tone and pitch of your voice when praising may confuse your puppy. The ‘click’ on the other hand is completely neutral and always sounds the same. This helps your puppy understand much quicker what you want from him.

Clicker Training and Timing

The correct timing of the ‘click’ is most important in clicker puppy training.

For instance, imagine that your puppy tends to run away from you. The correct thing to do is to call him while he’s running away. If he then stops and turns his head to look at you, you must click immediately. To collect his treat, your puppy will have to come to you.

If only it were so easy in practice…

If you didn’t manage to click the very instant your puppy stopped or turned his head, but clicked a second or two later when your puppy had again turned away from you, you would be rewarding him for running away.

As you will see, the correct timing is vital in clicker training. This is something that you can learn though. And the best is to first practice this without your puppy. As an exercise throw a soft toy into the air and then click at the exact time that it hits the ceiling or has reached its highest point. You’ll see that it isn’t all that easy!

Once Clicker Training, Always Clicker Training?

Many of my trainees have asked me, whether they’ll always have to carry around a clicker and a treat bag when working with their dog.

Not necessarily…

Clicking is just a training aid. Once your puppy has learned what you wanted him to you can slowly phase out the clicker and also the treats.

Nonetheless, I have noticed that my own dogs are far more motivated if I reward them with treats and they get very excited when I take out the clicker to teach them something new using clicker training.

Got the clicker, got the treats? You’re now ready to start using clicker puppy training to teach your puppy to sit!