Clicker Training

From Cheryl May, (

Clicker trainining is from Karen Pryor's book, "Don't Shoot the Dog." Pryor didn't invent the method -- and she acknowledges that the idea isn't new with her. What she's done is explain it all in simple language for the lay person.

A clicker is a little metal clicking device, but other things can be used as well, such as a whistle or tongue click. You can get a super deluxe clicker from Karen Pryor's company for $2. An oversimplified explanation of the training method is that the dog either *starts* to do something correctly in the learning phase, or later on actually does it, and you click and treat. The click pinpoints for the dog *exactly* when he is correct. For instance, with a dog who has an extremely difficult time understanding where heel position might be, you can tell him when he is right. The treat comes shortly thereafter.

Or use it when the dog is working gloves and is a little hesitant about whether they have selected the right direction. Click and you will see them noticeably pick up speed. They don't get the treat until they return with the glove of course. The clicker is also great for rewarding the turn and sit on the signal exercise. You can still run out and treat for a nice go-out, but also click for every good one, and they get the treat when they come over the jump.

Karen Pryor's book, plus clicker supplies, is available from Direct Book Service (800-776-2665).

From Arlene Courtney, (

Clicker training is a motivational method that does not require you to use any sort of compulsion. This method of training by positive reinforcement is derived from the training methods used for training other mammals such as whales and dolphins, species with which you can't use compulsion.

First, you pair a treat that your dog really likes with a particular sound, either the sound of a clicker or a word that can be said quickly like yes or good. The object is for the dog to learn that the sound means food is coming. This can be done in informal training sessions when the dog looks at you (the beginning of attention training!). When the dog looks at you, you reinforce the behavior with the sound followed by the food. The dog soon views the sound as a positive. Once the dog knows that the sound is a good thing, you can use it reinforce other behaviors. The sound allows you to give positive feedback exactly when the dog is doing the behavior that you want. Here is an example of how I have used this method to train an exercise that to the dog's way of thinking was incompatible with previous training:

Rocky, my Field Trial Champion, became very stressed when I tried to get him to do a down on command while working. This was a result of his field training. Although setters were originally bred to "set" when they found a bird (assume a posture that was very close to a down so the hunter could throw a net over the dog and bird to catch the bird), setting is penalized in today's field events even though it is geneticaly programmed - the dogs are expected to point standing like pointers which were never bred to set. This means that we must teach our dogs that it is wrong to lie down. Well, the pro trainer who finished Rocky's advanced training apparently really got this message home, and Rocky generalized it to mean when doing any kind of work you don't lie down! If you tried to compell him into a down, he would resist with all his strength. This was unusual since he is a very compliant dog. I decided to try the clicker idea to see if it would work (I actually used the clicker). I started with bedtime as my informal training time (I had already conditioned him to the clicker.) I waited for Rocky to get up on the bed (bad owner, he sleeps on the bed!). As he went down, I clicked and gave him the treat. The next night as he started to drop, I said down, C&T. Soon I started to reward him for laying down at other times. Before long, he would happily drop on command. In fact, he started to offer me drops as a greeting. Now Rocky happily drops like a rock on command (pun intended).

I have folks in my obedience classes who are having success retraining stay problems using the clicker and several who are getting good success with the open exercises using the clicker (only some of the class participants use clickers). I still believe that corrections are a necessary part of training, but I don't teach exercises 


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