Clicker Training For Dogs 101

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Use a Clicker and Raise a Happy Dog!

For many years’ dolphins, whales, sea lions, parrots and llamas have benefited from the “Click and Treat”-method – In this article, I will explain how you and your dog (German shepherd) gets started training with a clicker. In this section, I will tell about the history of the “clicker”, show initial techniques and some helpful tips.

The History of the Clicker as a Training Method

You have probably already heard about training a dog with a clicker – but if you want to know about the history of the clicker, please read on.

“Click and Treat” or “Clicker Training” is a term for operant conditioning, which is the scientific principle that describes how behavior develops an animal when affected by the outside world – working operant. B. F. Skinner was the first to describe this form of learning. Many will remember the “Skinner Box” which was equipped with different buttons. When an animal triggered a particular button, it would result in a reward. Initially the animal hits the right button by accident, but soon the animal was very conscious about which button it should hit to get a reward.

In the early 60s, the “clicker training” method was popular with dolphin and whale trainers in the United States. They were looking for a new way to train the animals on which they did not require to have physical contact with the animals and a method, which did not involve any form of punishment. Experiments had shown that punishment was totally unsuitable in the training of the large animals. The animals lost confidence in the coach and refused to work. However, dolphins was confident and reiterated to the desired behavior, when they receive fish, toys and praise. Nevertheless, it was very difficult to tell the dolphin what part of its behavior that was desirable – was it the height of the jump, was it because it had swum fast or was it the big splash when it hit the water surface. Therefore, it was a huge success when it was possible to click right at the exact moment the dolphin did the desired behavior. Enthusiasm was therefore great when using operant conditioning to select and highlight a particular behavior towards the animal and reward it later!

Americans Karen Pryor, Ted Turner and The Baileys were among the first who trained dolphins on this principle. They shared their yearlong clicker training experience with “dog”-people through articles and seminars.

Why use a Clicker?

The sound of the Clicker is a mark, which very accurately tells the dog what it is we want, and why it is getting a treat. The “click-sound” is very short, neutral and is a very a recognizable sound, and as opposed to our speech, it does not vary in strength or intensity.

The Clicker makes it easy to communicate unambiguously with the dog. Moreover, it is easier to communicate with the dog, when we can wait a little to “pay” the reward. Click sound will signal the “Good boy! – The reward is on its way.” The success of the clicker training does not really depend on the clicker, but on the reward, the dog gets afterwards. The reward can be anything that the dog likes: Touch, play, praise and treats.

Let the German Shepherd think for itself

Traditionally when training dogs, the dog is motivated and manipulated to do the desired behavior (possibly by forcing, pushing, and pulling the dog). When using the “Click and Treat” method you widely let the dog, try figure it out what we want by trial and error until a given behavior is rewarded. One should not correct undesirable behavior – just ignore it. The dog naturally seeks to repeat behavior that results in a reward. The result is a happy and creative dog, and enhanced cooperation between the dog and owner.

Planning and Milestones

In Clicker Training, an important phase is “planning”. We must set ourselves a goal, think through the exercises and divide the exercise into milestones. We often forget milestones and waits to praise the dog until we are at the exercise’ final objective. However, the result of this is often the dog not learning quickly, which results in a frustrated dog and owner.

All Ages

Because Clicker Training is based on positive reinforcement principles dogs of all ages can participate. Of course one must be aware that the training sessions must of a shorter durations when training puppies.

clicker training for dogs

14 Tips on How to Use a Clicker to Train Your Dog

  1. Move to a location where you and the dog can work undisturbed. Have the treats ready and easily accessible, thereby ensuring that the association between the click and the treat is created. Use your thumb to quickly push the tin plate down and let go, hereby create one double click. Reward the German shepherd at the same time or immediately after the click sounds. Walk around the room and repeat 15-20 times. Do not talk to the dog, let it concentrate on understanding the meaning of the click.
  2. Try to click and wait a few seconds before giving it the treat. If the dog reacts and looks for the treat, it means that have accomplished a big step in Click Training. The dog then knows that the click means: Accomplished! Reward on the way!
  3. Timing, timing, timing! Click and Treat whenever you see something you like. Remember that you must click while the dog exhibits the desired behavior. Snack can come immediately after. NEVER click to get the dog’s attention or as a start signal! When the dog hears the click it will interrupt the behavior, which is alright, since click means “well done”.
  4. In principle, you can choose to click and treat your dog spontaneously for all the behavior it exhibits, and as you like. You can, for example, click and treat for sitting, looking at you, following you attentively, waiting at the door, lifting a paw, laying its head on the floor and so on. But you can also choose to work with one desired behavior at a time. The latter gives the dog the opportunity to concentrate on one task at a time, and allows a faster and safe result.
  5. If you choose to work with one behavior at a time, do the following: Decide what it is you want to teach the dog. The task could be, for example, the dog must walk from the kitchen to its bed in the living room and lie down in it. Now think of all the milestones you can reward the dog for that specific exercise: Looking at you, to sit, to lie, to lie in a long time, to be in several places in the house, going towards the bed, stepping up in the bed, sitting in the bed, lying in the bed, gradually increase the distance until the dog alone can go from the kitchen to the living room). See an example further down the page.
  6. Remember: No commands to the dog! It is tempting to give the dog signals (commands) while working with the dog, but resist the temptation. Whilst the dog is learning new exercises, the commands will only confuse the German shepherd. If you give the command too early, it can give the dog a wrong perception of the command’ importance. Instead, let the clicking sound guide the dog for what you want and save the command as the last step. See an example further down the page.
  7. Click and treat for small progress or milestones. Do not wait to click and treat till you see the finished result. For example if you want the dog to come to you, Client and Treat at these milestones: When the dog looks at you, takes a few steps in your direction, directly walks towards you, increases speed, ignores disturbances, coming right up to you, touching your hand, sitting next to you and so on. It is a good idea to make a few notes on the progress.
  8. Always click once (in / out) when you see the desired behavior. If you want to express special enthusiasm, give it a few extra treats or additional praise – as a kind of “jackpot” reward. Though remember ONLY one click.
  9. The training sequences should be short and always finish with success. It is tempting to keep going when things are going well, but exercise no more than 5-8 minutes and have a few. Always stop while you have the feeling that the dog (if it could talk to you) would say, “This is fun, let’s try again!” You will be amazed at how quickly the dog learns, if you click train 2-3 times a day.
  10. Let the creativity loose! You can create situations that helps the dog towards the objective by manipulating the dog into the desired position, but you should never push, pull or press the dog. Preferably train without a leash.
  11. Gradually demand more and more of the dog. The idea is that the dog must perform a little better next time to be rewarded. But remember that it is your job to look for something rewarding. Look for milestones such as increased speed, accuracy, concentration, time dog stays in the position and so on.
  12. Now you can assign a command to the desired behavior. When the dog has learned what behavior triggers a click and thereby a treat, it will often spontaneously begin to show the behavior. When it does so consistently, you can introduce a command (or hand signal). Read an example further down the page.
  13. If you and the dog are “stuck” in an exercise and cannot move forward, check if your timing is correct. Please be patient. The dog is simply in the phase in which it tries to figure out the task. Try and do the exercise in somewhere else and give the dog a treat simply for trying. It will usually get it going again.
  14. Have fun! Clicker training is a fun and rewarding way to bond with your dog, which will undoubtedly make you better to communicate and collaborate.
clicker training for dogs

Exercise: Lie and Roll

Objective: To get the dog to lie down and roll on command.

  1. Train in familiar surroundings and in peace. Train without any. Have the clicker ready and treats within reach.
  2. Say the dog’s name, and wait for the dog to look at you – and then click and treat (referred to CT further on).
  3. Show the dog that you have a treat in your hand. Close your hand around the treat and move your hand from the dog’s head to the ground in one swift motion. Hold your hand completely still and say nothing. The dog may lick and scratch on your hand. Be patient and do not say anything.
  4. The dog will at one point lie to better sniff and explore your. Immediately the dog lies down CT, and open your hand so the dog can get the treat. If the dog stands up while eating the treat, just ignore it.
  5. Move a little to the side and repeat the exercise. Remember, keep quiet and keep your hand still. CT the dog every time it lies down. The dog will soon find out what it is you want it to do and will lie down immediately when you hold your hand to the ground. Train exercise several places in the house and later in the garden. Keep several breaks and always end with success.
  6. If the dog loses concentration, show it the treat quickly and close the hand again. End the exercise with success (remember to train in short sequences). When the dog consistently lies down when you put your hand to the ground, then it is time to begin the next part of the exercise.
  7. This time you still put your hand (with a treat) to the ground, but this time do not give the treat immediately. Instead, you move your hand under the dog’s chin, behind and up against the shoulder. When the dog’s head and body follows and thereby lying on its side CT (do not click if the dog stands up).
  8. Move a little to the side and repeat the exercise. Remember to keep quiet. CT every time the dog lies down and starts rolling. Gradually increase the severity. Train the exercise on several locations in the house and later in the garden. Keep several breaks and end with success.
  9. When the dog consistently lies down and rolls around using the gesture, it is time to introduce the signal “roll”. Keep using your hand to initiate the roll, but when the dog is rolling, you give the signal “roll”, CT immediately when the signal is given. Repeat this several times and gradually reduce the use of the hand movement. The goal is to get the dog to lie down and roll all the way around.

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