How Does Clicker Training Work?

Clicker training is a form of reinforcement based training which utilizes an audible marker to communicate to the animal precisely which behavior the trainer is looking for. The sound of the click tells the animal it is doing something correctly, at the very moment it happens, and it is always followed up with a small reward (usually a pea-sized food treat or favorite toy).

The clicker-savvy dog understands that if it repeats the behavior it was doing when it heard the click, it will receive another treat.

Can clicker training be used to fix problem behaviors in puppies and dogs?

Absolutely! Clicker trainers study the behavior to understand what the trigger is and why it is being reinforced. We first try to eliminate the reinforcement, and then train a preferred behavior.

Will I always need to carry around a clicker and use food?

No. Dog clicker training is used to train new behaviors. So once the behavior is on cue, the dog clicker is no longer necessary. If you want to tidy up a behavior (have your dog respond more quickly, or do it longer, etc.) then you can use the clicker again to improve the behavior.

There are a lot of things in life that your dog finds rewarding. Food happens to be one of the most rewarding, but not all dogs are driven by treats. It will be important to learn what your dog likes, and use those things to reinforce the trained behaviors – other options include toys, play, attention, and affection. We also take advantage of life-rewards like going outside, going for a walk, greeting another dog, etc.

Can’t I just use a word instead of the clicker?

When dog clicker trainers don’t have a clicker in hand, but want to mark a behavior, we use what we have, a sound we make with our mouth. We will pick a word such as "good" or "yes." These words work, but are not as precise as the click. The sound of the click is something quite unique and is able to be made a lot quicker than blurting out a word. Not only does a click sound distinct, as opposed to a verbal sound that they hear all the time out of our mouths, research suggests that the sound is processed in the brain differently (in the amygdala as opposed to the cortex), which may explain the long-term recall of behaviors trained in this way. 

Where can I find more information? 

My favorite resource for learning about this form of training is through books. If you are interested in which I recommend, visit my Pinterest site and click on Recommended Reading