The clicker is widely regarded as the greatest breakthrough in modern animal training. Clicker training evolved from the training of marine animals. Since marine animals are usually at a distance (and in the water!), trainers found it difficult to instantly reward them for correct responses. While Marine animal trainers usually use a whistle to mark the behaviors (the sound travels better underwater), we use a simple piece of metal and plastic which clarifies (in the dog’s mind), what is expected of him at an exact point in time without stress and confusion.
When used during the initial phases of training, learning comes quickly. Here’s why: Think of the click as telling your dog he is doing something right at a split second in time. The clicker is valuable because it improves the timing of our communication with our dogs. To communicate to the dog that you want a particular behavior to increase, you must communicate it the instant the desired behavior occurs. The clicker allows us to use this simple thought process to help a dog understand what we want. It also enables your timing to be exact and specific. It’s like taking a picture of the exact behavior you want to reinforce.
With the clicker, you can train all sorts of useful and fun behaviors. Hello, stupid pet tricks! The clicker must be paired, or associated with something a dog finds pleasing. A small, bite-sized food reward is most commonly used. The key is to select something that motivates your pet. Think of it like an IOU. Every time you click, you owe your dog a treat.
You would think that a word of praise would be just as good as the clicker. However, the clicker has two big advantages that verbal praise cannot duplicate. The first is that the click sound has no emotion attached to it and always sends a clear, consistent message to your dog that he is doing something right. The click sounds the same every time, where praise is often inconsistent in sincerity as it is often affected by your mood. Our dogs are very in tune to our emotions. Let’s face it; sometimes it is hard to praise your dog when he has been giving you a hard time (or more likely, when you have confused him into complete bafflement!). A clicker cuts through all this. The second advantage is timing. The click pinpoints the exact moment your do has done something right; no matter how hard you try, it is not possible to say “Good dog” in a split second. Please note: The clicker is not to replace praise! It is simply another tool we use to establish communication that promotes fast learning.
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”
~ Josh Billings
Certified Canine Trainer & Behavior Specialist
Professional Dog Training in Houston, TX