Activating or charging the clicker is the first and most important step when getting started with clicker training your dog. This is what makes the whole process work! The click! sound signals to your dog that he offered the behavior you want and will be rewarded for it.
To get started, take your dog, your clicker, and a bowl of treats prepped for training (divide them into small pieces that can quickly be swallowed) to a quiet place in your home with no distractions. Hold the clicker behind your back or in a pocket to begin with. This keeps the first click somewhat muffled and allows you to gauge your dog’s reaction. If he’s afraid of the clicker, you’ll need to find an alternative marker.
Next, make sure your dog’s not doing anything that you don’t want to be reinforced, like jumping up for the treat bowl or chewing the furniture. If everything is copasetic, click the clicker and immediately give your dog a treat. If he wasn’t startled or afraid of the clicking sound, you can bring the clicker out from behind your back or out of your pocket.
Repeat the click and treat process and make sure to reward immediately after each click. You’re not rewarding any particular behavior, just waiting until your dog starts to make the connection that click! equals treat. When he gets excited and looks for the treat after you click you know you’re there. It can take anywhere from five to twenty repetitions to charge the clicker so be patient. And remember not to click if your dog is jumping up or offering a behavior you don’t want. Wait until he’s settled then continue the exercise.
That’s it! Once you’re charged up you can get started with other clicker training exercises including the core obedience commands. From here on out remember to ALWAYS reward after you click. You want your dog to trust the message sent by the clicker, i.e. that a treat is coming. Otherwise you risk breaking the very tool that makes the initial stages of positive dog training work.
If your dog doesn’t like the clicker
Some dogs don’t like the sharp sound a clicker makes. There are a couple of options if you find that your dog is afraid of the clicker. You can put layers of masking or duct tape on the back of the clicker or wrap it in a thick cloth to muffle the sound. Or you can use a different sound as a marker such as a clickable ink pen or snap your fingers (see Markers and motivators for positive dog training for more alternatives).
If your dog isn’t interested in the treats
Every dog is different and you’ll have to try different foods and objects to see what motivates your dog the most. If you free-feed, consider a switch to scheduled meals and train before meal times.