Fido’s Homeschooling DIY Training Program: Clickers and The Magic Word

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Have you heard of clicker training? Do you think it might be complicated or tricky in some way? In this next installment of Fido’s Homeschooling DIY dog training program, we will explore the beautiful simplicity of clicker training. 

In the previous post on Essential Training Concepts we discussed the importance of both clear communication and timing. To recap, when it comes to training a specific behavior, it’s best to stick with a plan that’s black and white with no gray areas. For instance, if you’re training your dog to sit, then reinforce your dog for exactly that – sitting. In reward-based training, if the reward doesn’t immediately follow the desired behavior, your pup may think he’s being rewarded for some other action. For instance, if your dog sits, then jumps up to get the treat, wait until he is sitting again before delivering the treat. Being unclear with timing or communication could unintentionally result in a variety of behaviors, including some that are unwanted, such as jumping up, rather than sitting, in this example. 

Using a “Click” for When Basil’s Bottom Hits the Ground

However, when you’re consistent with what you’re reinforcing, it’s easier for your dog to understand exactly what you’re trying to communicate and “get it.” And that is where the clicker comes in handy. A clicker is used to communicate with your dog that what she or he did at a specific moment is what you wanted. Again, to review, for an animal to learn that one thing is associated with another, events must be in proper order. One thing predicts another. The click comes first; the reward follows. Nothing complicated. Nothing tricky. The click is simply a marker that says, “well done.” If you prefer, you can use a word – a magic word- such as “Good!” or “Yes!” in place of the click.

Charging the Clicker 

Here’s a homeschooling exercise to teach your dog that the sound of the “click” or your “magic word” means something wonderful is coming. Once charged, you will be able to use this sound (the click or word) to signal to your dog that what he or she did was what you wanted. This exercise is called: Charging the Clicker:

  • Settle yourself comfortably with your dog near you. 
  • Have an ample amount of yummy, but tiny, treats in an easy to reach place. (Small pieces of kibble work great for this exercise.)
  • Make a click with the clicker (or say your magic word) then give your dog a treat. 
  • Click-Treat (C/T) about 20 times in a row, feeding from your hand. 
  • Repeat the C/T another 15-20 times, but feed from different location: toss treat on floor, or away from where you are sitting. 
  • Repeat a few more times until you notice your dog orienting when he or she hears the sound of the clicker or your magic word.
  • You will know you have completed this process when your dog alerts to the charged sound (click/word), then looks for the treat. 

Generalization

Great job! Now you’re ready to take it to the next level. As you may recall, generalizing means taking a skill your dog has grasped in one setting and learning it many other contexts. So, grab your clicker and a treat pouch (Doggone Good Clicker Company has several great options) and repeat the above steps in different locations. For “extra credit,” you can also have other family members practice this Charging the Clicker exercise. 

Teaching Aslan to Lie Down – and Stay

Troubleshooting 

When starting out, some dogs may initially be startled by the unfamiliar sound of a clicker. This exercise (like all Inquisitive Canine training) is meant to be fun and rewarding for pup and human alike. So, watch for signs of stress. If your dog shies away from the click or leaves the area, simply stop the session. Muffle the clicker by wrapping it in a towel or similar soft, thick cloth until you can barely hear it and begin again. Over time, as you notice your dog eagerly start to respond to the muffled sound by looking for the treat, gradually unwrap the clicker.

Clicker training can actually be the answer to troubleshooting other training skills where clear communication or timing are challenging. When practicing, just remember to follow these 3 easy Clicker Rules.

The Clicker Rules:

  • The click comes first; the reward follows.
  • Every click must be followed with a reward! (Yes – even if you didn’t mean to click.)
  • The clicker is not a remote – it is used to communicate with your dog that what she or he did at a specific moment is what you wanted. It is not used to get his or her attention. 

Questions? For additional information on Clicker Training, check out Karen Pryor’s website: http://www.clickertraining.com/

Do you have experience with clicker training? How did it go? Comment below with success stories or any stumbling blocks you may have encountered. Or contact the Inquisitive Canine for more information. Thanks for being an inquisitive pet guardian! Stay tuned for more training tips.


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