While using a clicker to train dogs has proven successful by many, some pet parents have not enjoyed a positive experience. It is easy to hit road blocks when using training devices, particularly if it is your first time using the tool. Review some of our tips below to see if there is a way you can improve the clicker-training process. Even a slight adjustment might make all the difference
- Every time you use the clicker, follow with a treat. Always. Make no exceptions when you are training. Producing a treat must stay consistent, or your pet may begin to doubt what will follow whenever the clicking sound is produced. The pet sees the clicker as a predictor of a reward, and every time the predictor fails to be followed by a tasty morsel decreases your pet’s trust in what the clicker does. Reliability is crucial; the treat must always follow the click.
- Use healthy treats. Since you are going to be using this often, supply your dog or cat with “treats” that aren’t loaded with sugar, fillers, or flavors that will be dangerous to repeatedly fill them up with. Keep it simple: use small squares of chicken, and avoid using piece of their regular dry pet food. The treat has to provide special motivation, not a meager tease for a meal.
- Make sure your timing is on point. Since you are psychologically shaping your pet’s behavior, the timing of the click must be exact. Click DURING the behavior, not after it. Then be sure to follow with a treat. This cannot be emphasized enough: clicking during the action is imperative.
- Remember the purpose of the clicker: it alerts your dog or cat that she is about to get a treat. Do not use the clicker to do anything else or to get your pet’s attention. (This often occurs when pet parents see that their dog or cat looks at them whenever they use the clicker- but unless you plan on following the sound with the treat, do not resort to using the clicker this way. It will be more difficult to train the pet, since they will begin to think that the click means they should get a reward only by looking at you when you make the noise, not practicing a skill or obeying.)
- Don’t increase the number of clicks. This will only create confusion in the dog, rather than encouraging enthusiasm or attentiveness. If you want to perk up your pup’s interest, then increase the number of treats when you use the clicker!
- Keep the practices short. Only work 10-15 minutes a day with your pet, or they may get antsy and lose interest.
- Don’t wait for perfect situations, such as 100% obedience or the pet doing something entirely of his own accord. If you want him to come, and he is already walking toward you- then click! If you want him to sit and he is just about to do so – then click! Encourage the baby steps, like a slack leash while walking (indicating that the dog is naturally heeling), or when the dog eliminates in the right place. When they are about to do something correctly, be sure to click; and always follow the sound of a clicker with a treat!
- If the pet seems like he is struggling to understand what the click means, work with him in a quiet undistracted place such as a spare bedroom, or the empty yard. Avoid click-training dogs together, since one might deter the other from focusing.
- When you get frustrated or upset mid-training because the dog or cat just doesn’t seem to get it, put the clicker away. You want your pet to associate that sound only with positive experiences like treats and petting, not shouting and restraining or fighting for their attention.
If your dog or cat is still unresponsive to the clicker, it might be worth considering a change in the product. Start with a new device, and see if a clicker of a different sound makes any difference. In the process, be sure to follow the basic tips about how to clicker train your dog, to make sure you start this session off of the right foot.