Clicker Training Your Dog

The Amazing Way to Train Your Dog Quickly and Effectively

Even if you haven’t heard of clicker training your dog, most of you share the desire to have a well-trained dog, right? And it looks so easy on the Youtube videos.

Yet we all struggle and get frustrated when our dogs don’t “get” what we’re trying to teach them.

There are endless causes of training struggles, but there are a few recurring themes you see in a lot of situations:
1) timing, and 2) consistency.

Which leads me to clicker training.

Clicker training is great for anyone out there, but I think it has a special appeal to the holistic pet owner because it is based on empowering the dog to figure out what you are asking of them: the dog is an active participant, not a passive one.

Like any training, you have to be consistent: nothing is going to work if you don’t practice each day and employ the training method in the same way each time you do it.

So why clicker training? Clicker training is a shift in how many of us have learned to train our dogs.

We aren’t going to use food to lure them into the desired behavior (such as trying to get them to lie down by putting a treat on the floor), nor are we going to physically “help” them into the desired position (like pressing their butt to the floor while saying “sit!”).

These are passive training methods, not much thinking required on the dog’s part. We definitely aren’t going to use fear as a motivator (i.e. if you don’t a negative thing will happen to you).

We are going to use the clicker to help mark the exact moment that the dog does what we’re asking, and the dog will learn that each time they hear a click they will get a reward for the behavior that was being performed when the click occurred.

This actively involves the dog and makes the training session a game in which they need to figure out what you want in order to get a click and a reward.

How to Clicker Train

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you remember nothing else, remember this: the timing of the click is CRUCIAL!

It needs to be the moment the correct behavior occurs

1. Establish the click-reward connection

To start, you need your clicker and a treat pack full of yummy treats. You want to choose high value treats that are nice and smelly like cubed chicken, not plain kibble.

Sit with your dog. Click (once only!), then give the dog a treat. Repeat this over and over, keep the session short: 3-5 minutes.

After a few sessions you will see your dog is starting to expect a treat after hearing the click – now you’re ready for step 2.

2. Click a desired behavior

Let’s say you want to teach your dog or puppy to sit.

At the beginning of a new session, wait for your dog to sit. DON’T tell the dog to sit. Just wait.

Eventually almost every dog will sit.

The second your dog’s butt hits the floor, CLICK! And give a yummy treat.

Now, sit quietly and wait for the dog to sit again. Keep this up, and remember to end the session before the dog gets tired – shorter sessions are better.

3. Repeat next session with a different behavior

So last session you clicked for a “sit.” Pick a new behavior you are going to click this time.

Maybe it will be when they touch your hand with their nose, lie down, or put their foot on a box you have set on the floor.

Again, click the instant the dog does what you want, then treat. Then sit back and wait for the dog to perform it again.

You can offer hints if they need it, like looking at the box you want them to touch or leaning over and looking at the floor you want them to lie down on.

4. Break harder behaviors into steps

If you are training a harder behavior it’s sometimes necessary to break the behavior down into steps and click train each progressive step.

For example, if you are training the dog to put both front feet on an upside-down food bowl, you might first click when the dog walks towards the food bowl.

Once the dog has made the association that approaching the upside-down bowl earns them a click, wait and click if the dog touches the bowl.

Next, only click if the dog touches the bowl with a paw. Then click if they put their paw on the bowl.

Finally wait and click 2 paws on the bowl. This may take several short sessions, but your dog will have a blast figuring it out, and if you click at the correct moment it will not take long.

5. Add a cue (word or hand signal) for the behavior

Once your dog is offering the behavior reliably over and over you are ready to add a cue. Let’s say you are teaching sit.

You’ve had multiple training sessions with your dog where you have clicked the dog for each sit, and they have figured out that sitting brings on the click and treat so are doing it over and over. Now you’re ready to add the cue.

This time, when you know your dog is about to offer a sit, say the word “sit,” and when the sit occurs, click and treat the dog.

Repeat this about 10 times – each time he’s about to sit, say “sit!, and click when the sit occurs” After doing this 10 times, stop talking.

The dog will probably try to sit again, but don’t click this one. Wait until he tries sitting a few times with no click.

Then, when you see another sit coming, say “sit!” and click the sit. You are teaching your dog that now he needs to sit after hearing the word “sit,” and forming an association between the word and the behavior.

If you want to train a hand signal instead of a word, use this same process inserting the hand signal instead of a word.

6. Improve the behavior

You can also use a clicker to improve the behavior. If the dog isn’t firmly sitting on the ground, at first you might still click it because you are trying to teach them what behavior is desired.

Once they have established the sitting behavior is what you are looking for, you can only click a good solid sit to refine their “sit” into the best sit around.

7. Play games!

Carry your clicker with you and catch a fun behavior – a head tilt, standing on their back legs, you name it!

Click the moment the behavior occurs, and see if your pet can figure it out again. Many dogs love the challenge of this game.

Important Clicker Training Must-Knows!!

• Only click once (in-out) to mark a behavior, clicking multiple times confuses the dog. If you want to reward an especially good behavior, increase the number of treats after the click.

• Shorter practice sessions are much more effective, no more than 5 minutes. Three 5-minute sessions in an hour are much more productive than one 15-minute session.

• Be patient and let your dog figure out the behavior you are wanting. If it’s a tougher behavior break it into steps and click and reward each step until it is learned.

Even in a simple sit, you can click if the dog starts to sit, then move on to clicking a lower crouch, then a full sit.

• If you or your dog are getting frustrated put the clicker away and have a little fun with your pet. Throw a ball, scratch its tummy. Take a breather.

Frustrated trainers never make good progress, and can damage their dog’s desire to please them.

• If you are not making progress, try taking a video on your phone and see if you are clicking at the accurate time – many times you’ll find that the click is coming too late.

Also, try moving to a quieter environment with fewer distractions.

Helpful links:

If you want to learn more about this subject, or watch videos to help you visualize the process, the following links will take you to the website of Karen Pryor, the founder of the clicker training movement.

Karen has literally changed the face of dog training and offers a wealth of information of many different subjects.

Here are a few links to help you learn more about clicker training:

Karen Pryor Youtube channel (full of videos showing clicker training)
Karen Pryor’s Clicker Training Library (full of helpful articles)

Clicker Training Supplies

If you’re looking for a clicker or treat pack, here are some products I recommend.*

*Clicking these links won’t affect the price you pay, but it does help support my website so I can bring you more helpful information!

Dog Training Clickers

red and blue clickers for clicker training

This clicker is a nice small size, and makes a nice solid click sound. Some other clickers out there are so noisy they scare the dog, this one is just right. I recommend a multi-pack, it costs a fraction more than a single one and allows you to keep them in multiple places.

OllyDog green treat pack with magnetic close and zip pocket for training

Ollydog Treat Bag

This treat pack is my favorite. It’s a bit on the smaller side, but because of that it’s not in the way if I want to wear it around the house for hours or on a long walk.

It has a magnetic closure for easy access and a small pocket in the front for poop bags.

ruffwear treat trader

Ruffwear Treat Trader

I love Ruffwear’s stuff. Key points about it are

1) magnetic closure allows me to whip it open quickly and snap it shut. (I can’t stand the drawstring ones).

2) It’s a bit bigger than the Ollydog so can hold more treats if I’m doing on a long walk with a dog that will need a lot of treats when he sees other dogs.

Doggone Good Treat Pack

treat pack 2

This is similar to the Ollydog (I haven’t tried this one), magnetic closure and nice size.

Doggone Good Rapid Rewards Treat Pack

treat pack 1

If you like a bigger, more multi-purpose treat pack, check out this one –

You can load a roll of poop bags in the dispenser, keep your cell phone and keys in a separate zippered compartment, and fill the roomy main compartment with treats.

Ready to Clicker Train Your Dog?

There you have it: clicker training in a nutshell!

Give it a try – it works for all types of dogs: big or small, young or old, super-smart or not-the-brightest-bulb-on-the-planet.

Remember that you are learning too; if it’s not working, read through the steps above and figure out which part you aren’t doing quite right.

This is a time for you to have fun with your dog, and that’s the whole point of pet ownership, right? Right!


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Karen Pedersen Written by:

Karen is an independent copywriter who loves dogs and everything about them. She is married to Scott, has 4 kids, and likes to take a natural and holistic approach to living and pet ownership.

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