What is dog clicker training?

Based on the principles of operant conditioning, clicker training is a simple method of positive dog training. When your dog does something you want him to do you “mark” the behavior with a sound, usually the sound of a metal clicker. You then give him a reward such as a treat or favorite toy which reinforces the behavior and prompts your dog to do it again. With clicker training you can teach your dog to do anything from sitting on command to running complex herding or obedience exercises.

How it works

Clicker training is an easy way for anyone to train a dog. Even a child can learn the techniques and take on some of the responsibility for obedience training.

Stage One: Charge the clicker

The first stage of dog clicker training is to “prime” or “charge” the clicker. Here the dog learns that the clicking sound means he’s going to be rewarded. (See Charging the clicker for training for more information.)

Stage Two: Mark and reward

Once the clicker is primed you can begin stage two: marking and rewarding a desired behavior. Simply click at the precise moment your dog is in the position you want. Think of it like taking a picture. Your click is a snapshot of what you want him to do. You then reward with a treat, usually food in a small enough portion that it can be eaten quickly. If your timing is right, your dog should associate the action with the click and treat. This encourages him to continue the action.

Stage Three: Introduce the cue

During the final stage of dog clicker training you teach your dog the name of the behavior you’ve been clicking with a “cue”, either a command or hand gesture. Once your dog can repeat a behavior easily at least 90% of the time, you can introduce the cue. Simply give the command or gesture before your dog repeats the action. After a few repetitions, click and treat only after you’ve given the cue and the dog responds. This step allows your dog to now relate the click and treat with the cue. He’ll then look and listen for the cue before doing the behavior. In time the click and treat can be replaced with a simple “good boy” or other real-world reward.

Even complex behaviors can be taught through dog clicker training if you chain together several smaller behaviors. For instance, train your dog to open the refrigerator and bring you a soda by first clicking and treating when he touches the refrigerator, then when he opens it (tie a rope to the handle to help him out), and so on until you complete the desired actions. The only limit to clicker training your dog is your imagination.