2018-09-14 / Front Page / Pets

Click for Success

By Phyllis Beasley, CP DT-KA Owner/Lead Trainer, Praise Dog! Training LLC
w ww.praiseyourdogtraining.com


The first step in clicker training is to teach the dog that when he hears a click, a treat soon follows. The first step in clicker training is to teach the dog that when he hears a click, a treat soon follows. If you have read any books or articles about dog training, you have probably heard about clicker training. The clicker is a small handheld object that makes a snapping or clicking noise. When the dog performs the behavior the trainer wants, the trainer marks the correct behavior with this clicking noise, and then provides a reward, usually a treat. Trainers at zoos and aquariums often use a whistle to serve the same purpose.

The clicker or clicking sound has no value by itself until it is paired with a reinforcer. The reinforcer is usually food but can also be a prized toy or other valued reward. Dogs quickly learn the sound of the clicker predicts the appearance of a reward. Some people use a marker word such as Yes instead of a clicker to tell the dog or other animal he performed the correct behavior.


Emma loves clicker training. She has learned that when she performs the correct behavior, she gets a click and a treat. Punishment based training is incompatible with clicker training. Emma loves clicker training. She has learned that when she performs the correct behavior, she gets a click and a treat. Punishment based training is incompatible with clicker training. Karen Pryor is a behavioral biologist, former dolphin trainer, and founder of clicker training who has written seven books and over 50 scientific and popular articles on the subject of clicker training, including the groundbreaking book, Don’t Shoot the Dog, which examines conditioned reinforcers ( the principle in which clickers work).

While a verbal marker of behavior, such as the word Yes, can also be used to mark the correct response by an animal, Pryor theorizes that clicker training works so well because the sound of the clicker is processed first by the part of the brain, the amygdala, that is a part of the limbic system, the oldest part of the brain. This part of the brain processes events such as noise and lights. Words are processed later by the cortex, the thinking part of the brain. She theorizes that difference in processing the click versus a word or verbal marker for behavior explains the success of clicker training in creating behaviors with more rapid learning and longer retention.


A clicker is a training tool that is used to communicate to the dog that they performed the correct behavior. A clicker is a training tool that is used to communicate to the dog that they performed the correct behavior. To begin training a dog with a clicker, you must first teach the dog the sound of a clicker predicts the arrival of a treat, otherwise the dog has no idea what the click is all about. This is called conditioning the clicker.

Years ago when I worked a part-time job as a dog food representative, I worked in a large pet store and was stationed near a kiosk in which clickers were on display. Many times I observed customers picking up a clicker and aiming it at their dogs as if it were a remote control and then they were surprised there was no reaction from their dogs.


Marti Hartley and Paddy practice their clicker skills in class. Marti Hartley and Paddy practice their clicker skills in class. There are three steps to training a behavior with a clicker

1. Get the behavior
2. Mark (click)the behavior 3. Reward the behavior.

When the dog learns he gets rewarded for the behavior, he will repeat it. Once the dog is consistently offering the behavior you want, you add the verbal cue for it. With pure clicker training, you don’t give the behavior a name until you are certain the dog will perform the behavior. This prevents you from saying the cue over and over again (Sit, Sit, Sit!).

So why use a clicker instead of just your voice? Effectiveness and accuracy. A click is fast. Using the quick snapping sound of a clicker, you can mark the very instant in time your dog performs the behavior you want. Clicker timing skills must be practiced. Using words like “good dog” take a long time to say compared to a quick click. The moment in time in which you want to mark a behavior will be over before you finish saying “ Good Dog.” You can still say “ Good Dog” but say it after you click the behavior.


You can lure a behavior, then click and treat as soon as the dog performs the behavior, such as this Down. You can lure a behavior, then click and treat as soon as the dog performs the behavior, such as this Down. A clicker is just a training tool. Once the dog has learned the behavior, you do not have to use the clicker anymore.

There are some important clicker training rules. If you click, even if it is a mistake, you have to treat your dog. Otherwise, the clicker will lose its value to your dog, and he will quit listening for it.

Another rule is one click, one treat. However, if your dog does something spectacular, click once, but you can jackpot him with several treats.

Scolding or punishing your dog while you are training him is incompatible with clicker training. With clicker training, you want him to learn to offer behaviors you can then mark with the clicker to reinforce. Punishment discourages your dog from offering behaviors.

There is an incorrect way to use the clicker. It is tempting to use the clicker to get your dog to come to you or to pay attention to you because he associates it with treats. However, if you click for these reasons, you are not marking a behavior. If he moves toward you after you call him to come or looks at you after you say his name, then you can click and treat for his response.

Interested in learning more about clicker training? Pryor has an excellent website with articles and videos at www.clickertraining.com.

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