Clicker training is a scientifically based training method which relies on a phenomenon known as operant conditioning. This basically means that any behavior that is rewarded is likely to be repeated. For example, if your dog manages to steal some toast when he jumps onto the kitchen chair or table, he’s more likely to jump up there again!
You can use this to your advantage, by rewarding your dog when he does what you ask him to. If he gets a tasty treat when he sits, you can expect him to sit even quicker when you next give him that command.
Clicker training doesn’t rely only on food rewards. You can use anything your dog particularly likes. That may be a throw of the ball, or a tummy rub. This is especially important when you are training a dog that is a little overweight.
Where does the clicker come into the picture? When you are training your dog, you must give them the reward at the exact time they are doing the behavior you want to reward. This isn’t always easy – you may be a bit far away to rub their tummy, or the treat may not be right at your fingertips. If you can connect the click with the reward, then your dog will understand that the click means a treat is coming, and the behavior is still reinforced.
It’s easier to understand this concept if you think of the dolphins at Sea World and other marine parks. Their trainer wants to reward them at the peak of their jump, not when they swim back to the shore. So, they use a whistle, and connect that whistle with the reward of a delicious fish. When the dolphin is leaping high into the air and they hear the whistle, they understand that the leap is what is being rewarded and they’ll get the treat when they finish the jump. Clicker training for dogs is exactly the same; it allows you to reward a behavior even if you’re not right beside your dog, or you don’t have the treat close by.
Clicker training is a fun way to teach your dog new behaviors, and even to sharpen up his old ones. It works well for obedience, agility and trick training. In fact, trainers of service dogs often use clicker training to teach their dogs to pick up dropped items, or to close doors behind them. Why not try clicker training with your dog?