Clickers: The Secret to Training Dogs Fast
Your puppy’s ability to learn hinges largely on your ability to teach it. Your goal is to teach your pup to offer different responses when you prompt it with a cue. It’s wise to use the same techniques that professional trainers use to help your puppy learn.
Dogs have the amazing ability to learn between 165 to 250 words which is about the same as a 2-year-old child. It is important to take your time, keep your expectations reasonable, and remove distractions when you’re training your puppy.
It’s reasonable to expect that Standard Poodles, Toy Poodles, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Collies, German Shepherds, Papillons, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Doberman Pinschers will be easier to train than Dalmatians, Pugs, Basset Hounds, Beagles, Neapolitan Mastiffs, and Bulldogs.
Use Positive Reinforcement to Shape Your Dog’s Behavior
Training should be consistent, short, and part of your dog’s routine. Shoot for 15 minutes a day. It’s wise to use positive reinforcement methods to shape your dog’s behavior. Positive reinforcement means you’ll reward your dog immediately after they do the behavior you want. This reinforces it, so the dog will do the behavior more often. You can begin training your puppy as early as 7 to 8 weeks with basic commands like “sit.”
To teach your puppy basic commands, you’ll need an auditory stimulus to capture the dog’s attention. This gives you the power to communicate what you want the dog to do the moment your dog does it. Use verbal cues or clickers.
A verbal cue may be a simple, “good” or “yes.”
Clickers are handheld noise makers that make a quick, distinct pop sound. There are box clickers and button clickers. Some are loud; others are quiet. Box clickers can be modified with putty, so they make a softer clicking sound. Many button clickers come with wrist coils, so you can wear them on your arm while training.
Verbal cues and clickers serve as a bridge which tells the animal that it will be rewarded for performing a specific behavior.
Many dog trainers believe it’s best to use a clicker as a bridge. According to Lindsay A. Wood, MA, CTC, in her paper, Clicker Bridging Stimulus Efficacy, clicker trained dogs learn in a shorter amount of time and need less reinforcement than dogs prompted with a verbal cue.
Clicker training tightens communication with your animal. The clicker is the mark that tells the animal the exact behavior you wanted right when your dog does it.
The clicker helps dogs improve learning and reduces frustration for both of you.
How to Charge a Bridge
Each bridge will need to be charged. This means, you’ll need to produce the sound by saying “good” or clicking, then deliver the dog a treat, praise it, or give it a toy. If you’re using a clicker, don’t click it right in the dog’s face, otherwise you can make him nervous. A clicker doesn’t work like a remote control though some new dog owners treat it as such. Don’t frighten your dog by clicking it in his face. You may consider hiding it behind your back, so you’re not tempted to point it at your dog.
In this first step the dog doesn’t need to do anything to get the reward. The goal is to get the dog to associate the bridge with the treat, toy, or “reward marker” as it’s often called.
You can use tiny bits of food or high value treats like chicken, roast beef, cheese, peanut butter treats and dog biscuits as reward markers. You can also use your dog’s favorite toy, though you may not be able to get as many repetitions out of the dog as if you used food.
To charge the bridge, say “good,” or click, then hand the dog the reward marker. Do this about 10 times. Don’t reach for the treat before you click. Click then reach for the treat and give it to your dog.
Even if you make a mistake, make sure to reward the dog when it hears the sound. This way your dog will associate the sound with a reward.
Once the clicker or verbal cue is charged, you can start shaping your dog’s behavior.
Clicker Train Your Dog to Learn Basic Commands
Start with the basics like hand targeting. Hold your hand in front of your dog’s nose. When the dog touches your hand with his face, click and then reward. Repeat.
The timing of the click is important. The more accurate you can be with your timing, the more time you’ll save with training because there will be less guess work on your dog’s part.
Each time you click it says to the dog, “Yes, that’s the right behavior.” When the dog doesn’t hear a click, it means the pup will need to try again.
Then add a verbal cue.
For example, try sit.
Click as soon as your dog puts his butt on the ground. This tells the dog that his behavior is on the right track. He’ll make the connection between the action and the reward. Soon the dog will understand that the verbal cue for “sit” means he needs to sit down.
Over time you can eliminate the clicker but it’s a great way to build initial communication with your dog and fast track their learning.