Clicker Training.

"Clicker training" is a training method based on behavioral psychology that uses a "clicking sound" to emphasise good behavior and rewarding it.

Desirable behavior is usually marked by using a "clicker," a mechanical device that makes a short, distinct "click" sound which tells the animal exactly when they're doing the right thing. This clear form of communication, combined with positive reinforcement, is an effective, safe, and humane way to teach any animal any behavior that it is physically and mentally capable of doing.

The basics of clicker training.

Before you introduce your dog to the clicker, become familiar with it yourself. Remember, it is not a toy, but a training aid. If you have children, it may be wise to tell them this, as it will be very confusing for your dog should he/she hear clicks that are not accompanied by any reward.

Initially, use delicious treats. Most dogs love sausages, cheese or cooked heart or liver. Treats that are special encourage special behaviour. Try and avoid dried food for your dogs normal diet as this may make him excessively thirsty. Keep the treats small so that they can be eaten quickly.

Before you start your training session, have everything to hand, and make sure you will not be interrupted for ten minutes or so. Find a quiet room in the house with as little distraction as possible. If you have other pets, shut them out and let them have a turn later. This should be quality time between you and your dog and the element of competition will ruin any concentration. Place your treats in a dish or tub on a convenient work surface where they are easily accessible to you, but not your dog.

Start by simply teaching your dog what a click signifies. If you are unsure how your dog may react to the clicker sound, you could use it in your pocket. Try to avoid using it in your dogs face as this could put him off completely. The clicker is extremely loud when click right next to an ear (if you don't believe this, do it next to your own - it's painful) so try to avoid clicking too close.

Arm yourself with a handful of treats. Throw one on the floor. The dog will go and eat it. As he/she does so 'click'. Do this several times and then you should notice that your dog is looking at you with expectation for the next click - this is the very start of the recall! Click him for looking at you, throw the treat away. As he turns to look at you again, click for that attention, throw the treat again. Thus, you are clicking him for his undivided attention on you.

Now he is staring to get the idea, you can start to move on to other behaviour. Best to start with something simple at first. Choose something that your dog is likely to do on his own - such as sitting, touching your hand etc etc.

Try and carry out your training without a lead. If you need a lead for safety reasons, pop it over your arm or through a belt, keep it slack and don't be tempted to use it to make your dog react in any way. Clicker training is about your dog finding solutions for himself. There is no need to be physical with him.

Your timing with the click is crucial. Remember to click during the behaviour you want, not after. Don't worry if your dog stops the chosen behaviour the moment he hears the click, the click has ended the behaviour give him his treat.

Ignore negative behaviour and work on the positive. If your dog jumps up, click him for having four feet on the ground. You can utilise this method for helping to walk properly on the lead by clicking and rewarding when he is where you want him to be.

When your dog impresses you with a required behaviour, show your enthusiasm by giving him a 'jackpot' - that is four or five treats at once, an extra special effort deserves recognition. Don't click more than once though.

You can 'shape' a behaviour by building towards your ultimate goal. For example, if you are working on your dog coming when he is called, click and treat a head turn, building up to a few steps in the right direction at first. When your dog is repeatedly doing that, withhold the click and start to ask for a little more. Maybe you are aiming towards your dog moving backwards away from you - you need to click in the initial stages for the tiniest movement of a back leg, then one step, and so on and so on. This method is useful for teaching anything - you just have to break everything down into "doggie sized pieces".

Once your dog has leaned something he will start to 'offer' you the chosen behaviour, trying to get you to click him. Great! Now you can start giving the cue to that behaviour. This can be a word or a hand signal, if we assume that you are going to say 'sit', say the word as the dog does that action, click and treat.

Now you are using a cue, don't fall into the trap of ordering your dog around. If he is not responding to your cue, the chances are he just hasn't fully learned it yet. Don't be afraid to go a step back and find ways to help hi, clicking the desired behaviour. Your voice is still useful, but for praise.

Keep your clicker sessions short. Your dog will learn far more from his training if you manage a few five or ten minute sessions a day. Fit your training into your daily routine; whilst you are waiting for the dinner to cook, get out that clicker! Should you be lucky enough to get the desired behaviour after a couple of minutes training, brilliant! Leave it on a high note.

Should you have a noise sensitive dog, you may like to consider using a different noise as a signifier. Biro's with a click down nib are much quieter or even clicking your tongue!

This kind of training is about choices your dog makes - if he chooses not to do it, he does not get rewarded, but gets 'punished' by the reward being withheld - therefore, if your dog does what you ask of him and does not get a reward you have, in effect, punished him by withholding the treats.

A reward is anything your dog finds pleasurable at that time. Treats are easy to use and accessible for you and your dog, but he may enjoy a tummy rub, or a game with a favourite toy.

Enjoy the time you spend with your dog and the clicker !