Clicker training is a positive reinforcement method of training. Studies have shown that animals respond best when an action is followed by a reward. The animal is therefore more likely to perform an action if they believe it will be followed by something good, such as a tasty treat. In clicker training, the clicker makes a sound and marks the desired behavior. After the clicking sound is made the animal receives a reward.

A clicker only needs to be used during the training period. With practice and repetition, the desired behavior eventually becomes habitual and there will be no need for the clicker, though you can certainly continue to use it to mark behavior if you wish. Rewards and praise, on the other hand, should continue to be used and will always be appreciated by your pet. 

If your dog is food motivated, make sure to use especially yummy treats as rewards. Try rewarding with bits of deli turkey or hotdog rather than using pieces of your dog’s kibble. 

When feeding treats as rewards to your dog, make sure they are just little bits. Rewards are given regularly during clicker training and it is important to try to prevent your dog from gaining any unnecessary weight or becoming full early in the session. 

If your dog isn’t food motivated, try giving another reward. For example, if your dog loves to play fetch, try throwing the tennis ball once after the clicking sound. In training, a reward is defined as something your dog loves or desires, it doesn’t necessarily have to be food. 

The trickiest part to clicker training is capturing the exact behavior you want with the click. But don’t worry, making minor mistakes won’t end up interfering with the training in the long run. Be as precise as you can and don’t forget to have fun while doing it! Training is a fun bonding experience for you and your pet!

Let’s walk through the steps of teaching a cue. If you want to teach Sit, you can simply wait until your dog sits. The moment his rear end is on the floor, click. Then praise and give a reward. Notice it says “then,” not “and.” Those are two separate steps and should not overlap. Repeat, repeat, repeat. After about ten times, cue your dog “Sit” and wait for him to do it. Click then reward when he does. If you don’t want to wait to catch your dog sitting, lure him by placing a small piece of food at his nose and then slowly moving your hand up and back, as if tracing the line of his skull. This should cause him to lean his head back. Eventually he will get to the point that he is leaning back so far that he has to sit in order to follow the treat. Click and then reward when that happens. If your dog is jumping up for the treat your hand is too high. If your dog keeps backing up instead of tilting back, work with him near a corner so that he can’t back up.

If you would like information from an Anti-Cruelty Society Behavior Specialist regarding this behavior topic, please call 312-645-8253 or email help@anticruelty.org.

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