How to Clicker Train Your Dog (or Teach a Marker Word)

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Clicker training is a highly effective and positive method for training dogs. It involves using a clicker, a small handheld device that emits a distinct sound, to mark desired behaviours and reward them with treats or praise. This article will guide you through the process of clicker training your dog and teach you how to establish a marker word as an alternative to using a clicker.

Understanding Clicker Training

Clicker training is based on the principles of operant conditioning, specifically positive reinforcement. By associating the sound of the clicker with rewards, dogs learn to understand that the click marks the desired behaviour and that a reward will follow. This method allows for precise timing and clear communication with your dog, making it easier for them to understand and learn.

Getting Started with Clicker Training

Buy a clicker to use or choose a click word that you don’t usually say. Good examples are ‘yep’ or ‘nice’ whereas a poor example for me would be ‘good or good boy’ (because I say that all the time and it in turn isn’t associated with big rewards like treats).

If you choose to use a clicker, don’t have it near your dog at first as it may scare them. Don’t be tempted to point it at them either. The clicker and click word is to communicate to your dog the exact moment they got something right, e.g. bottom
touches the floor when trying to teach a sit, or when they walk next to you for loose lead walking. It is not a recall tool or attention-seeking device.

The click or click word must always be followed with a high-value reward such as a treat, their favourite toy or something they really want.

How to teach the click or click word

To teach the click or click word (with the example ‘yep’) do the following:

  • Have the treats out of sight, either in the treat bag or behind your back.
  • Imagine your hands are locked onto your side and the word will be the key to release them.
  • Get your dog’s attention at first. Click or say the word ‘yep’ THEN release your hand
    to collect a treat from your treat pouch or move from behind your back to feed the treat to your dog.
  • Repeat a few times until you start to see your dog become excited when they hear the click or the word ‘yep’.

The reason the click or click word must unlock your hand, is because if you do both at the same time your dog will be smart enough to just watch your hand and the click or click word ‘yep’ will be white noise and hold no value. Instead, we want the
word ‘yep’ to become associated with rewards, much as the dings on a slot machine is for humans.

This way, we can then use this word to improve the timing and association of behaviours with rewards. We can even use marker words as part of a tailored plan to create positive associations with stimuli a dog has previously found scary!

Learn more on this topic

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