• What is clicker training?

    I’m asked all the time what is clicker training and how does it work? Below are some frequently asked questions regarding this method of training and why it’s so useful.

    What is a clicker?

    A clicker is a small plastic “noise maker” that when pressed, makes a “click” sound. It is used in training to communicate to animals the exact behaviour that is being reinforced. Another term for it is an event marker.

    How does it work?

    When your animal does the correct behaviour, you press the clicker and deliver the reinforcement (usually food but can sometimes be other types of reinforcement).

    1. Correct behaviour occurs
    2. Click
    3. Deliver reinforcement/food 

    As an example, you are teaching your dog to sit. The second their bum hits the floor, you click and give them a treat. 

    How will they understand what the clicker means?

    In the beginning, the clicker will mean absolutely nothing to your dog. By repeatedly pairing it with food after the click happens, your dog will begin to associate the sound of the click with reinforcement.

    Once your dog understands that they can make the click happen through their own behaviours, you’ll start to notice a dog that actively participates in training in order to get the click. 

    Think of the clicker like a paystub. The pay stub itself is useless but it promises money (reinforcement) in the bank. The paystub itself then becomes reinforcing because it lets you know your work is getting reinforced.

    Why bother using a clicker?

    Clickers are extremely effective tools in communicating with your animal what exactly they were doing that earned the reinforcement. It takes the guess work out of the training session for them and you typically see new behaviours or skills being grasped much quicker.

    As an example, if we were teaching a dog to go to their bed, the exact second they step on the bed, we would click and deliver the food to them.

    Within 2-3 repetitions, your dog will begin to realize that every time they step on the bed they hear the click, they’ll realize that it was the behaviour of being on the bed that we are looking for.

    The other benefit of using a clicker is that it bridges the behaviour to the reinforcement. What this means is that even though the reinforcement might be slightly delayed because it takes time for us to grab a treat and give it to the dog, our dog is not left wondering why they were getting the treat in the first place.

    Using the same example of teaching a dog to go onto the bed without the clicker. The dog goes over to the bed, we go to grab a treat to give it to the dog, the dog may be left wondering what exactly was it that got the treat? It could have been walking towards the owner to get a treat, walking towards the bed or looking at the owner. It may take a lot more repetitions and trying different things before the dog clearly understands that going to the bed is the behaviour we want.

     What about correcting or punishing wrong behaviours?

    One of the reasons why I adore using the clicker during training is that the absence of a click is enough correction your dog needs to know that wasn’t the behaviour we wanted.

    Rather than using physical or verbal corrections to say “wrong” or “no”, when our dog offers the wrong behaviour, we simply don’t click and they know to try again.

    A good example of this is teaching your dog to go to their bed. If we were using a clicker, we click when our dog goes over to the bed. If they choose to sit in front of us, we simply don’t click and allow them to think and try something else.

    When punishing a dog or scolding them for wrong behaviours, we’ll get less participation from them in trying new things on their own.

    Can I teach new behaviours without a clicker?

    You can absolutely teach new behaviours without using a clicker but training may take longer and you may see some frustration from your dog if they aren’t understanding what we’re looking for from them.

    If you’d still like to be able to effectively communicate with your animal during training sessions but a clicker isn’t right for you, you can also use a word or a sound to mark behaviours rather than the clicker.

    As an example, you could use the word “yes” to mark behaviours. The same rules apply to the word or the sound. The behaviour happens first, you mark it with your word “yes” and deliver reinforcement. A note about using a word or verbal marker, I try to avoid anything like “good boy” or “good girl” as an event marker because it’s very easy for us (humans/trainers) to mix it up with the reinforcement process.

    Just like using the clicker, in the beginning the word will mean nothing to your dog but if we repeatedly follow the word with food, your dog will begin to understand that the word marks correct behaviours.

    If you’d like to give it a try either with a clicker or a word, I always suggest asking your dog for some behaviours they are really good at (sit, down, shake a paw, etc.), click or use your word after each correct behaviour and feed right away. Your dog will begin to understand the process and then you can start using it to build new behaviours or skills.


    For more information on clicker training, feel free to contact us.