Clicker training is a fairly new approach to training dogs. Trainers of show dogs teach their dogs’ tricks with clicker training, but anyone can use it for everyday skills that make dogs happy and cooperative members of the family. Clicker training begins with the understanding that dogs are social creatures who want to do what their masters teach them to do.
Dogs enjoy training. They want to be included in family activities. It’s hard for them to succeed because we have trouble communicating what we want from them. The clicker tells the dog, “What you did THEN was great!” and rewards the behavior. The dog says, “Hey that was fun! What did I do?” and tries to get the human to repeat the click and reward behavior. So we end up training each other.
With clicker training, you bring up dogs with all positive reinforcement. A dog who has had clicker training is happy and confident. Here are five tips for clicker training your dog.
1. Do get the kids — and whole family — involved in the training. It’s not necessary to have enough strength to jerk a strong dog into submission, because you don’t use a leash. All you need are clicker, treats, and time. Small children may need supervision and help, especially if the dog is big, but the clicker training quickly have the whole family using the same words and rewards — making it much easier for the dog to learn.
2. When you’re starting out, click anything that approaches what you want. The dog learns the behavior first and then the sound you make when you’re asking for the behavior. If you’re teaching “sit,” click and reward every time the puppy’s rump gets close to the floor. As the dog gets better at the behavior, you’ll click and reward actions closer to what you want.
3. Practice clicker training with your dog every day. Pick an action you want the puppy to learn and click and reward over and over. We get used to thinking dogs understand us, even though they don’t. So the word “sit” doesn’t mean anything to them until we teach them to connect it to the action of putting their rear end on the floor.
4. Once the dog understands that “butt on floor” means click and treat and associates that behavior with the sound “sit,” then you can refine the behavior. You can use the clicker to distinguish between a “sit” that gets a reward and a “sit” that just gets a “try again.” The progression moves naturally, and eventually you can put the clicker away until the next time you want to teach something.
5. Make the clicker training a time for fun for you and the dog. Dogs are social animals who love to interact with their pack in the wild or their family in a home setting. If you’ve got a cheery voice and a pleasant manner with them, they will return your joy multifold and try to do anything that you want them to.
Clicker training is a great way to raise a dog to expect good things from people. A confident dog is friendlier and more loving than a fearful dog, and they love to learn to do what you want from them.
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