clicker training

Clicker Training for dogs

Jessie was so much fun to train with a clicker; she absolutely loved when it came out.  

Clicker training has been around for a very long time.  It started with the dolphins, their trainers and a whistle.  Yes it was a whistle that was used with the dolphins and that is where Karen Pryor came in.  From whistle to clicker; she introduced the art of clicker training to the dog world.

Clicker training uses a sound to reinforce a behavior.  But first a connection must be made with the pre-conditioned "food is coming" response to a correct behavior.   The connection training MUST be taught before the use of the clicker will have the proper effect.  

Most dog owners do not fully understand the clicker.   Those set loose with a clicker, are clicking all over the place.  

Clicker training is all about timing.  Think of a dolphin being taught to jump through a hoop that is 10' in the air.  The behavior that the trainer wants to mark as "yes that's what I want," is the act of going through the hoop.  You cannot deliver a treat at the exact moment that the dolphin goes through so you must "mark it."  For this to work, there must be a pre-conditioned link of "whistle = food." 

This is exactly how the clicker works.  You teach your dog that each and every time they hear a click, they get food.  The click=food.  This is where much of the confusion lies.  People are clicking for everything; not delivering food rewards when they should be delivered and the clicker loses it's power.  

Sure it looks cool to use a clicker but it works much better if you understand how and when to use it.  Many people, including myself also use a verbal maker like "key, yes or right."  "Yes" is my word and I conditioned this word very early on with Elsa.  I like to have it in my training toolbox so that if I am out somewhere and need to mark something I can just use "yes."  

Clicker training works amazingly fast.  But, if you truly want to utilize the power of a clicker; I suggest that you learn how they work.  Clicker training really is all about timing.  You must perfect your timing before adding a dog to the scenario.  First you need to learn how and when to click and then you add your dog.  

A dog who is clicker trained learns to offer behaviors.  Bring out a clicker to a clicker trained dog and the offering begins.  As soon as I bring out a new item that Elsa has never seen before, along with the clicker, it starts.  She will immediately push it, bite it and paw at it waiting to hear the click.  Once she gets the click, she clearly understands that she is headed in the right direction.  

Click is not a lure, it is not a pleasant sound making device that has magical and mysterious power; it is an amazing way to link reward delivery with a behavior.  That is it's power but to utilize it to the fullest the human must learn how to unlock it's power first.  


I was in the garage tidying up when Elsa came to the door.  She is not allowed to come in unless invited.  This is a safety precaution; in case someone happens to leave the outside garage door open.  It was safe so I told her "okay."  She came in and nosed around a bit before finding a skateboard.  I turned to see what she was doing and she was just standing looking at it.  Then I remembered teaching her about the skateboard when she was little.  She remembered and was hoping to get a click and treat for touching it.  So later in the afternoon I got it out and we picked up where we left off over two years ago.

Of course she already knew that we were going to work with the skateboard so she immediately gave it a push.  With a few clicks for a simple touch we moved onto the tougher stuff quickly.  I was only clicking when she left her foot on.  If she left it on while it was moving, she got a bonus load of treats. Often a new behavior has to be broken down into steps.  I couldn't expect her to just get on and go boarding.  We have to work up to that.  Once she was reliably giving me one foot on the board we moved to two feet.  This meant that she no longer got clicks for one foot and had to offer more.  What I want is for her to have her two front feet on it and walk around.

She is getting it for sure.  The training process with the skateboard is quite fascinating.  She is not only learning a new behavior but interacting a great deal with the board.  It rolls around and she has to go get it to continue; plus she is working with a moving object. She, like Luke is not a fan of things that move by themselves.  It is a good skateboard, so it moves easily and is constantly rolling away.  She goes to wherever it rolls; and steps out of the way when it is rolling her way.  This would be a wonderful exercise for any dog who may be afraid of a board.  Of course you would start with the board on the grass so it wouldn't move and very slowly work up to a smooth surface.

The biggest challenge was for me when I decided to video tape a bit of the process.  With a handful of treats and a clicker in the other hand; videoing seemed impossible.  Okay, Elsa understands "yes" as a substitute marker so I'd use that.  Sounds easy right?  Nope.  Every time she deserved a "yes" I shut the video off.  With marking the behavior on my mind I kept hitting the phone as my click and then saying "yes" after.  Timing is everything when using markers and having the phone in my clicker hand had me struggling for perfect time.  So the delivery of my "yes" is not perfect but we managed.   At least I got enough video for you to see what we were sort of doing.

Teaching is never a waste; even an activity like this is useful.  Watching Elsa think is the magic part.