If you are using clicker to train your dog the first thing you need to do is associate the click, or the marker with the reward. Once they understand what the click means you are half way there! This dog clicker training stuff is going to be fun! That is the key… FUN!
You will need to decide early on what you will use as a reward. Food is probably going to be the best reward as dogs love to eat. You can use their favourite toy, try both and see which works best. Its sometimes a good idea to vary. If using food treats don’t use anything too rich or fatty.
Try to use their favourite food or treats that are already part of their diet, so you are not adding extra calories and naughtiness. Chicken roll is ideal. It is processed meat pre-cut into 15 or so very thin slices. It’s cheap, lean, tastes good (to dogs at least!) and can be cut into inch squares. It fits easily between your fingers so you can lead your dog’s movements with your hand. This works well in the twist and spin lesson.
Let’s start… You have your clicker and you have a generous quantity of treats. Find a quiet place without distraction so it is just you and your dog. There are a couple of ways to start.
- Click to get your dog’s attention then immediately give them a treat. Repeat this until they get the idea.
- Scatter some treats on the ground and let your dog start eating them. Start with about 10 or so. As they begin to eat each one click. Keep clicking until they are all gone.
Either way, your dog will begin to learn that click = food in mouth. So we will tell them what to do for another treat, or at least that is the plan!
This process is often referred to as ‘charging’ the clicker. For the first few sessions at least you should charge your clicker to get your dog into the mindset. Also, make a fuss and use some familiar phrases at the beginning of each session. Get excited, ask them “Are you ready?! Are you ready?!” They will start to know when they are about to get clickered!
You may find the first method best as each time you click, your dog’s attention will be caught intentionally by you. That is part of what dog clicker training is about – you telling the dog what to do then rewarding them, not the dog doing what they want expecting a reward. If you use method one, reward immediately then turn away to allow them to continue sniffing around, or whatever else they were doing. Click again to get their attention before immediately giving the treat.
Note the word ‘immediately’ a couple of times so far. Timing is everything with clicker. Whatever the desired action or movement it must be clicked at the specific point it begins. As you will learn from the sit lesson the click comes as your dog decides they will put their back end to the ground, not after they sit and not before they sit but as the movement to sit begins.
As you practice you will start to see how your dog reacts to the clicker. It may take a couple of sessions, a day, maybe two, depending on your dog, your patience and how often you train. The key thing here is getting your dog to consistently react to the clicker and for them to show you they are ready to progress.