Clicker Training

Clicker TrainingClicker Training: In my right hand is a typical clicker.
Look how eager Zeus (my Belgian Malinois) is to learn.

Dog training with a clicker is typically the best way to train a dog. A simple- fun training method is to use something called a clicker (a small hand held device) and dog food or high value treat. Dog training with a clicker can is typically the best way to train a dog. However is does take the longest time to train your canine. I advise not to use dog food otherwise your pet may have weight issues before you know it. However, if the dog isn’t overly motivated to work for ordinary pet food then use food that excites the dog. Cheese, boiled chicken pieces and dried liver chunks usually work well. Please don’t misunderstand; I am not saying that your pet needs to work to be fed. There are various strategies to overcome periods when training isn’t progressing.

Grasping the concept of the clicker training is important in all aspects of training I will be covering. Before attempting to use the clicker for any behaviors, first you need to load the clicker. Loading the clicker is essentially giving the clicker sound a meaning to the animal. I say animal because clicker training is used for a variety of animals such as gold fish, monkeys and dolphins, to name a few.

To establish the dog’s understanding that the clicker equals food, and is fun, you will need to condition its mind by loading the clicker. To load the clicker, grasp the clicker with one hand and with the other hold a couple of small treats. The treats do not need to be large, in fact the smaller the better, otherwise training may slow down if it takes too long for the pet to swallow the treat. For that reason, I also recommend using soft treats, as they can be swallowed faster so you can continue with the training agenda. To “load,” click the clicker and as fast as possible give the treat. It’s best that the treat comes within one second of the click sound. Continue doing so for at least 15 different times of clicking and rewarding. To “load” the clicker, it doesn’t matter what the dog is doing, as long as it isn’t a bad behavior.

What you will most likely find is that if the pet is food motivated, it will give you its undivided attention. You may be inclined to want to give commands and talk a lot while loading the clicker, but do not give any commands; however, you can give some verbal or physical praise. Typically, if the dog doesn’t need any motivation, I remain quiet. Remember that dogs communicate mostly through body language, therefore it’s better not to talk as it is more likely to create confusion. There is no point in saying anything because it has no meaning to the dog. Essentially, there is no need to put a CUE (verbal command) on an action until the dog has demonstrated that he understands the desired behavior.

You will want to do two to three different sessions of loading the clicker per day for a few days. It is important to remember that less is more when doing your training sessions. One simple way to know if the canine knows the meaning of the clicker is if the dog gets excited when you pick up the clicker, you know he understands that the clicker equals getting a treat. Once you have that established, you are ready to go to the next phase of training.

With the clicker now being “loaded,” you can start teaching your dog behaviors. A good behavior to work on with the clicker is potty training. Potty training requires patience, repetition and consistency. The patience comes into play when your pet has an accident despite your efforts to properly potty train. The dog will learn exactly what you want through repetition paired with being rewarded. Consistency will be achieved by being disciplined and making sure that you communicate clearly and consistently to the animal.

I myself Ryan Matthews as a dog trainer recommend avoiding pattern-training, which is continuously teaching the dog via the same pattern or picture. What this means is every time the trainer says “sit” they always wait for the dog to be by their side and the trainer always bends over while commanding “sit.” Be sure to have the pet sit on various surfaces such as rocks, grass, stairs and slick floors to name a few. Also, change up body posture and positioning when giving commands, releasing the dog and other training scenarios. When loading the clicker, press the clicker when facing the dog, when sitting on the couch, when standing straight, when crouching down, essentially be creative and think of fun things that you haven’t yet done before when using the clicker.

Observe your dog’s potty routine. The better you know how soon your dog needs to go out after he eats, the fewer accidents you will have in the house. You can even go as far as logging in a journal when the dog has finished eating and what time you took him out. After the dog eats, take him outside with clicker in hand. Once outside, do not give any commands to go potty or any other verbal communication. If the dog begins to urinate or defecate, do not praise or click. You must wait until he is completely done, then as soon as he is finished, click and reward.

The reason to wait for the dog to finish its business is because if you click too soon, then eventually the dog will likely cut things short just to get rewarded or to hurry and get back inside.

If the dog does not potty when given the opportunity, then he must continue to be supervised. I recommend either keeping the dog on a leash with you, such as putting it on the leg of a table or wrapping the leash around your waist. You can also put him in a kennel. Remember that you are being patient and not angry, just simply teaching your dog the rules of the house. Wait about 30-45 minutes, then go outside and try it again with clicker in hand, because you don’t want to lose out on the opportunity to reward and praise. Part of The Canine Connection (the book I wrote) is knowing and understanding the dog at a deep level, similar to knowing the habits of a spouse. Therefore, if you notice the dog getting up from lying down while on the leash, or in the kennel, if he/she won’t rest or settle, the dog is likely ready to go potty. In this case, simply repeat the same process as before.

As a reminder, there is always more than one way to DIY a dog training and numerous ways to teach the same behavior. The reason is that I want the technique to be aligned with you and the relationship you wish to achieve with your canine.

Potty Training a puppy is just one behavior that can be taught with the clicker. Many commands can be taught with this method. Another example of this would be teaching the action of lying down. If you want the dog to lie down, a simple way to teach it is when the dog lies down on its own, click and treat. Through a series of repetition, timing, and rewards, the dog will learn that when it lies down, it gets rewarded. Soon you will find it offering the behavior of lying down. Once the dog begins to provide a down behavior, you can now put a cue (command) to it.

If the dog is not looking at you, say their name only once and say “down.” Be sure that the two front elbows are completely resting on the floor. If the dog does a down, then click and reward between the two front paws with the treat set on the ground. All of these steps are important. I my self Ryan Matthews will explain why, so that you aren’t just following the instruction; I want you to own the knowledge. The reason why the two front elbows must be resting on the floor is that the dog is committed to the down position versus raising the back end and break of the front elbows off of the ground. Think of it this way; if you reward the dog while he is breaking the position of the down, then you are saying that is the type of “down” you are looking for.

When doing clicker training, the placement of the treat is 50% of the success in this form of training. Therefore, give the reward on the ground. If you take shortcuts and don’t give the treat on the ground, you may observe that the dog is beginning to break the down command. Most likely, the reason is that you are holding the treat too high. The dog’s head will go wherever the treat is, so if the treat is high, the dog will likely rise, so remember to reward low and on the ground.

To help build your handler skills, know that the dog in a sit position is closer to a down than if he is standing. Therefore, if you are wanting the dog to “down,” you will get the pet to respond much easier if he is already sitting versus standing or in motion.

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