One of the harder parts of clicker training your dog will be getting him to do what you want so you can click and treat. There are two kinds of behaviors you can use. First, you can wait for your dog to do something you think is worth repeating, also known as “emitted” behavior. Second, you can help your dog along either with treats or by physically putting him in the position you want. These are known as “elicited” behaviors. Each method has advantages and disadvantages, but they both play a role in clicker training a dog.
What could be easier than teaching your dog to do something he already knows how to do? Emitted behaviors are perfect for clicker training, but they’re often hard to come by since your dog won’t always offer the exact behavior you want. There are two ways to use emitted behaviors:
When your dog does exactly what you want perfectly and all by himself, you can capture the behavior with a click and treat. This is the quickest way to train simple behaviors your dog does all the time like sitting.
In shaping you click and reward small sections of a behavior until you can combine them into an entire movement. For instance, you can clicker train your dog to touch a target by first clicking when he makes any movement at all toward the target. Then only click for more direct movement in the target’s direction until he can follow the target wherever it goes.
There are two types of elicited behaviors: those obtained by luring and those that are molded.
Here you use food or a target object to guide your dog into the behavior you want. For example, you could take a treat and raise it just above his head and click as he sits. Once you have a behavior from this method you should fade out the lure as quickly as possible so your dog doesn’t learn to rely on it to offer the behavior.
This type of behavior is generally a last resort in clicker training. In molding you physically put your dog in the desired position, for example pushing his butt down to teach him to sit. The problem is that your dog may confuse your touch with the cue for a certain behavior. Then he’ll simply wait for you to touch him before reacting. If you use molding, only use enough pressure to get the desired behavior and phase the touch out as quickly as possible.
Advice on what behaviors to use
Your clicker training sessions will probably involve a combination of the methods described. But your focus on a particular type of behavior may differ depending on your ultimate goals.
Elicited behaviors, either luring or molding, are nice shortcuts if you simply want your dog to understand the basic obedience training commands. It’s usually easy to get a dog to follow a liver snack into a position so you can click and treat.
If you’re looking to teach more complex behaviors or you really want your dog to learn how to learn, emitted behaviors and a little luring are the bread and butter of clicker training. It can take more time in the beginning to shape behaviors. But, as you and your dog learn how to communicate, the process will go much faster and your dog will truly understand the behavior because he figured it out for himself.