Could a “click” sound be the difference between successful dog training and total failure? Many dog experts, including the American Kennel Club (AKC), say yes to clicker training for barking. Sound is the basis for clicker training, a technique in which the dog trainer presses a button on a handheld device and offers a reward the moment a dog performs the desired behavior.
Our recommended method of training dogs involves using a hand-held ultrasonic training device to get your dog’s attention, especially when he is doing something you don’t want him to do, and reinforce desired behaviors with voice commands and treats. We call this our “train, treat, repeat” method of dog training.
Clicker training, however, can be used in place of treats. Also referred to as mark and reward training, clicker training is considered positive reinforcement training. Read on to learn more about this technique and whether it’s right for your dog training needs.
What is Clicker Training?
Although this technique is relatively new to the dog training world (1990s), clicker training has science behind it. Animal studies show that when dogs learn that a particular behavior is rewarded they are more likely to repeat that behavior in the future. This approach allows you to focus on what your dog is doing right rather than what he’s doing wrong, which is a win-win for both of you.
Unlike many aversive training tactics like yelling, hitting, and threatening a dog, clicker training can be used to teach a new behavior or encourage good behavior with nothing but a small inexpensive plastic clicking device and rewards (usually tasty dog treats). No more yelling, no more fear, just a treat and praise when your dog displays a specific behavior.
Clicker Training Guidelines
- If your dog isn’t driven by rewards or has a low food drive, this type of training will be ineffective.
- A clicker doesn’t signal your dog to do something, but rather it tells your dog he got something right (marks an event), like sitting or looking at you.
- To prevent poor training, you’ll need exceptional hand-eye coordination and the ability to solely focus on training so you can press the clicker at the precise time. Otherwise, you confuse your pet.
- Click every time your dog performs the desired behavior, whether it follows a command or happens by chance (this is called capturing the behavior). Immediately follow with a treat. Eventually, you won’t need to reward your dog with a treat every time; however, in the initial phase of clicker training, you must offer a treat immediately following the click every time, or the technique will be useless.
How Does Clicker Training Work?
The distinct click sound provides a clear and consistent signal to your dog, unlike when you speak commands, which may influence his behavior due to the varying levels of tone, and volume in your voice. Before you attempt to train basic commands or complex behaviors, you need to introduce your pet to the clicking technique, which is easy to do and takes only a few steps.
- Start when your dog is calm and is in a quiet setting without any distractions so he can focus on you. Have the clicker in one hand and have treats ready to offer with the other.
- Press the clicker and immediately offer a treat and praise. Repeat this process five to ten times.
- Now it’s time to test your pet! When your dog isn’t paying attention, press the clicker. If he responds to you and begins searching for a treat, he’s caught on. Now you can move ahead to teaching more commands. If he fails to respond, it’s okay; just repeat the above steps until he does.
That’s it. If your dog gets the idea, you can apply the clicker technique to basic commands like sit, stay, and lie down. Remember you must click at the exact point your dog displays your desired behavior. For example, if you want your dog to sit, click the button as soon as his rear hits the floor and offer a treat immediately. Before or after this moment may confuse your pet.
For more complex behavior, break it into steps (experts call this “process shaping”). Click and reward each action your dog makes toward the end behavior.
Does Clicker Training Work on Puppies?
Yep, clicker training is an effective way to teach a puppy tricks or desired behaviors. Puppies have shorter attention spans, and they might require more patience and more repetition.
Using this technique allows your young dog the opportunity to happen upon the right action on his own. As he learns, your pet will no doubt perform many incorrect behaviors before he accidentally displays a desired one like sitting, which gets him a treat (reward). This waiting until your dog performs an action naturally process is called “capturing.”
You may continue this trial-and-error approach without giving commands. All you do is observe your puppy displaying a wanted action, and capture the moment by immediately clicking and rewarding. Your dog will learn to associate that behavior with a reward and repeat the behavior in the future.
To help your puppy, you can follow the above clicker training steps starting with the simple click-treat, click-treat over and over, several times. Before you know it, your puppy is ready to tackle the basics and beyond.
Does Clicker Training Work on Barking Dogs?
Yes, you can use clicker training to change your dog’s behavior, but we recommend The BarxBuddy ultrasonic training device to stop unwanted behaviors. Before you begin to use this technique there are a few things you need to know.
- Ensure your dog gets plenty of exercise (both physically and mentally), especially if your pet is a high-energy dog. A tired dog is usually a quiet dog.
- Don’t punish a barking dog. Punishments can increase his anxiety or serve as attention, which can cause your dog to bark even more.
- Do not provide any attention until your pet is quiet and calm.
- As with any training, consistency is key. Click and reward every time.
You need to teach your dog the quiet command by teaching the bark command. Yes, it sounds counterintuitive, but it can work!
In a quiet setting (free of distractions), have your clicker and treats ready. Command your dog to “speak.” Click and reward every time he barks. Once he has learned to bark on demand, it’s time to teach him to be quiet on command. Instead of clicking and rewarding the bark, now you click and reward when your dog STOPS barking and is quiet. Even if he’s quiet for a couple of seconds, in the beginning, reward him.
After your dog associates a reward for being quiet you need to continue training as you slowly add distractions or stimuli that would normally make him bark. This process is referred to as “proofing” his response. Depending on how excessive your dog’s barking is, you can expect to spend several weeks before your dog is able to control his barking in various settings.
This is why we recommend an ultrasonic training device; the cacophonous sound from the device interrupts your dog’s barking so you can nip it in the bud and retrain it much quicker.
Pros and Cons of Clicker Training
Like other training techniques, clicker training has pros and cons.
- Highly rewarding training can easily encourage your pet to try new behaviors and tricks.
- It can help build a strong relationship between you and your dog.
- You can get your dog to repeat the behavior, time and again without him losing motivation.
- Dogs are quick to learn exactly what behavior the clicker is marking.
- It is ineffective if your dog has a low food drive or reward drive.
- If the training is not done properly, the effort is for naught.
- Your dog might gain a bit of weight if using high valued rewards like real meat or large treats. Treats should always be small and will be reduced over time, so weight gain should be short-term.
Alternatives to Clicker Training
If you find the clicker training isn’t working for you, don’t give up hope; there are alternatives. One option is a dog training whistle. Maybe your dog isn’t fazed by the soft sound of a clicker; if so, you might try a whistle. Your dog might find the sound of a whistle more attention-getting and, in turn, improve his responses.
Another alternative is an ultrasonic trainer, like the BarxBuddy ultrasonic training tool. This device emits a high-frequency sound only certain animals, such as dogs can hear. They are safe to use and can be an effective training tool when combined with a positive reward, such as your dog’s favorite treats.