Now that you know what the clicker is, it’s time to teach you how to use the clicker yourself. Because I am not an expert, I am taking much of this information from a clicker website. On this website, a guide dog owner discusses the use of the clicker. When you start working with the clicker, there is one thing that is extremely crucial to the success of clicker training.
Timing is the most important. Let’s look at it this way. Say you are walking your dog down a street and see another dog. Usually, your dog may get excited or nervous, but this time, your dog just keeps walking. You stop and praise her, saying “good girl”, but by that time she has her head on the ground sniffing. To her, when you are saying good girl, you are saying that sniffing is the behavior you are wanting her to do. Clicker training is just a quicker way to praise the behavior you want. I’m going to give you a few tips that may help you when learning timing with the clicker.
There are a few things you can do to work on timing. Some of these practices can be done by yourself, and others require another person to assist you. However, if working on your own works easier for you, here are a couple things you can do. If you can, have a recorder handy during your practice so you can record yourself. Turn on a radio or something where someone is talking. Choose a word that you are going to click on while listening to the radio. It should be a word that will be commonly used such as “the”. When you hear that word, try and click right on time. After practicing this a few times, listen to your recording and see how you did. You will find that, with practice, you can get better and better with clicking at the right time. You can also practice by dropping an object and clicking immediately when it hits the floor.
After practicing several times with clicking on time, it is time for the fun part. Now, you must teach your dog the importance of the clicker. I briefly touched on this last time, but there is a simple way to help your dog understand that a clicker means a treat is coming. When you begin, have either a treat pouch with treats on you or have a bowl of treats beside you. Start when your dog is across the room from you. I had sort of an advantage because Joba already new clicker training and was good at it when we were training for new behaviors. All I had to do was start clicking, and he knew a treat was coming. Your dog will be able to get to this point. When you begin, you don’t want to click right in their face. It may startle them, therefore defeating the purpose of the training. The dog must learn that the clicker is fun, not scary. So, stand across the room, away from your dog, and click. After clicking bring your dog a treat. In reality, it should only take about seven times before your dog realizes that, every time that little sound is heard, a treat is coming.
Before teaching your dog a new behavior with the clicker, reinforce an old one just to make sure your dog is understanding that click means reward. If your dog knows the command sit, tell your dog to sit. The instant he is sitting, click and treat. While the clicker is definitely not a toy, have fun with it. Every training session you do with your dog, whether it be clicker training or basic obedience, make it enjoyable for you and that precious dog. Training with your dog always strengthens the bond between both of you. And if you can, involve family and friends in the training. It can be a fun family activity.