photo courtesy of Tien Tran

Introduction to Clicker Training


BayBriar Kennel
Uniting Dog And Owner Through Education
Jeannette Hutchison
31834 Geib Rd. Cordova, Md. 21625



Clicker training is based on scientific research in the laws of learning and operant conditioning; it’s a simple proven way to communicate with your dog using positive reinforcement. A clicker is a little plastic box with a metal strip inside, when pushed down it makes a unique sound.  We want to teach the dog that the click produces a reward. The reward must be something your dog values.I use food to introduce the dog to the concept. The reward should be small moist pieces, easy to deliver, that don’t produce crumbs. It needs to be something small enough the dog doesn’t need to chew, he can just swallow. When teaching the dog that the click produces a reward, have the treat ready, click the clicker and give the treat instantly. Wait several seconds and click and treat again, do this 10 to 25 times. Make sure the dog is learning that the click produces the reward. The clicker is a positive marker signal, teaching the dog you like what he is doing, and promises him a reward for doing it. Once the dog understands the click produces a reward use it to mark behaviors you want the dog to repeat.

You can use a word instead of the clicker as your positive marker. The problem with the spoken word is it can show emotion. The word needs to be short, like “YES”, and be neutral when said, and not drawn out.  The word is marking the behavior and results in a reward. The clicker has no emotion and is better at marking a precise piece of a behavior.  Dogs soon learn to associate the work with the reward.  They have made a choice to work with you and become very excited at the thought. The dog’s speed and enthusiasm increases for the activity because the dog has transferred the value of the reward to the work.   

Shaping behaviors: Use the clicker to mark small approximations the dog offers you to the end behavior. You do nothing to cause the behavior to happen.
Capturing behaviors: Wait until the dog does the entire behavior, like sit, stand, or down. No command is given.

Luring behaviors: This behavior happens because we do something to cause it. When     you lure you dog, the reward or bribe comes out before your dog engages in a behavior. This causes dogs not to offer behaviors and increases learning time. Many dogs, which have been taught with luring, never learn to pair the work with the reward. Many never show a lot of speed when working.   

The number one function of the clicker is to mark a behavior, and bridge until you reward the dog. This allows you to reinforce the dog for working at a distance. The reward must be delivered ASAP. There are 3 ways to reward the click. #1: click the behavior and reward where the behavior happens. #2: Click the behavior and throw the treat or reward to reset the behavior. #3: Click the behavior and the dog needs to continue to work for a short period of time before he is rewarded. I don’t let the click release all behaviors. I have a verbal release to free the dog from the behavior.

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