So, What is Clicker Training?
Put very simply, Clicker training is a method of positive reinforcement training using a handheld device called a clicker. You make a sound using the clicker at the precise moment your dog does something you want her to do and follow up with a treat.
Using a clicker is much more accurate than saying “good girl” or “good boy” and increases the likelihood of your dog associating the desired behavior with the treat that follows.
Disclaimer: I am not a certified dog trainer and what you’re about to read is my opinion of a product based on my personal experiences working with my own dog Nut.
Our own experience with clicker training…
Nut has been my dog since I found her on the street in Phuket in 2011. She was about 7-8 weeks old.
NutNut is a mixed breed Thai street dog. You may know that we relocated recently to Australia from Thailand; people who see her here in Australia think she’s part dingo or a “Bali dog” or a cattle dog and most people compliment her beauty and manners.
But, the thing is, Nut can be quite a handful!
She’s a very fit, healthy and energetic 7-year old dog with strong natural instincts.
She can be boisterous, she can become over excited, she is very prey driven and highly territorial. She probably comes from a long line on Thai street dogs who had to protect themselves and scavenge for food.
She is however, very loving and gentle enough to be around small children, assuming they’re gentle enough to be around dogs! (Please always supervise children, especially around animals)
Nut was very easy to house train, there was just the odd accident here and there when she was a puppy if we waited too long to take her out, but I had some concerns about my ability to raise her to be a congenial family member and did a lot of research on the subject. This was during the height of The Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan’s popularity and many people fancied themselves as dog trainers and were at the ready with advice and a lot of it was not very useful.
Luckily, one day I happened to meet a professional dog trainer at the vet and when he asked if I wanted some help I said yes immediately and booked a course.
If you’re in Phuket I highly recommend getting in touch with Russel at Canine Point Academy (formerly Thailand Canine Academy) he does training with you in your home, as well as in-kennel training (awesome when you’re going away) and classes.
Nut and I did 6 sessions with him at home over 6 weeks or so, I left her with him for a few days when I had a long weekend away and then we also did group classes later on. It was money well invested, Nut got a great foundation for us to build on and I learned skills that I will use for life.
Among other things, Russel introduced me to the whole idea of clicker training and the Starmark Clicker. I tried a different brand of clicker that I found in a pet store years later and it just wasn’t the same, so I won’t ever try another brand again.
It’s gotta be the blue and orange Starmark Clicker!
You can see in the video below that NutNut loves her clicker (and treats of course!) and because she’s so motivated it’s easy to introduce new behaviors or practice recalls when we’re out and about. This is not a how-to video, maybe we’ll make one of those later…it might even be time to clicker train little Frankie. In this video I’ve used her as a distraction to test NutNut’s concentration.
It’s important to understand is that when your dog is doing something good you only have 2 seconds to acknowledge it.
If you’re too slow or if you’re just handing out treats all the time your dog won’t make the association between what they were doing and the acknowledgement and/or reward. They might even associate the praise or treat that you give with something else entirely, like begging for the treat or even jumping up to get it!
Using a clicker makes it easy to mark the precise moment your dog is doing what you want and then follow up with a reward.
The good behavior might be sitting on command, shaking hands, coming when she’s called, walking nicely on the leash or even just relaxing and not barking at the neighbours.
The clicker lets your dog know that what she is doing is good and she will soon be rewarded; the reward is usually in the form of food. When Nut was a puppy I used chicken but now I just use her regular kibble.
Click at the moment your dog is doing what you want and then treat. Once your dog is consistently following a particular command you can start to phase out the clicking and treating. You do this by first maybe just rewarding 1 in 3 times and then just every now and then.
The clicker is kind of the same as verbally praising your dog, but it makes the whole thing very precise. It always sounds the same, it’s quicker than saying “good girl” and you can even click while you’re carrying on a conversation- just don’t forget to follow up with the treat!
I like the clicker because it’s great for the stay “place” (or stay) command. If I click Nut when she’s in “place” or even “down” when we’re out and about she knows that what she’s doing is good and a reward is coming. She doesn’t mistake the click for me calling her to me. This was very helpful when she was a young pup learning these commands. Nut quickly learned to wait for me outside a bank or shop or whatever without being tethered.
The down-sides of Clicker Training
- It can be tricky to phase out clicking and treating and still get the same great results.
Of course it can be done but it requires patience. You must phase out the treats slowly and if you do it too quickly and find that your dog stops listening you might have to go back a step. Nut is a good dog, but I notice she is so much more alert and responsive when she can see I have the clicker and treats.
- Training your dog to follow basic commands won’t solve every issue that comes up.
You must look at every aspect of how you interact with your dog at home, out and about and also how your friends and family might be un-training your dog and my trainer Russel would definitely tell you that too.
- You get messy slobbery hands!
This is a great system to use and very inexpensive. The clicker comes with instructions and there are also hundreds of tutorials on you tube.
You can purchase clickers here or if you’re in Australia and don’t want to order from the U.S email me and I might have one I can post you from here.
Remember, I don’t recommend any clickers except the orange and blue Starmark Clicker. It really does give the best sound and that’s super important.
Once you’ve clicker trained your dog you will find it’s a great way to train commands and tricks.
I am currently looking at courses to help with the overall management of my dogs and I’ll post more about those later. I think it’s crucial to understand that training commands is not the whole picture, there needs to be an understanding of dog behavior and pack mentality, especially when you’re out and about on the walk and at the dog park!