A great way to teach puppies to learn, think, and please you is a dog training technique called clicker training. Clicker training puppies is easy, too. Puppies — and people — will repeat behaviors that reward them and naturally avoid behaviors that offer no benefit. Owners don’t have to be master dog trainers to use this technique and puppies learn very quickly how to behave.
An added benefit is the puppy figures how that HE controls the outcome. That’s empowering for the baby and encourages him to think of ways to get you to do what he wants by guessing the good behavior you’ll reward. It also teaches your dog to enjoy and eagerly look forward to dog training lessons because they become a game and way for you to communicate with each other.
My dog Magic learned using clicker training very quickly. By ten weeks of age, he performed “puppy push-ups” (sit-down-sit-down) on the local TV station. Your puppy can learn just as easily, and in fact, puppies are sponges eager for new things to learn. Give them a constructive way to spend all that energy.
Introduction to Clicker Training
Clicker training lets your puppy stumble upon the behavior you want him to do. He will perform many “wrong” behaviors before he accidentally sits — and gets a reward. The puppy figures out that he’ll get a reward if he can guess — and perform — the behavior you want. The more wrong behaviors he tries, the better he learns what won’t work. You don’t use commands or physical direction with clicker training, it’s all puppy motivated, so the puppy never gets punished — but he’s only rewarded for the right choice.
Here’s how it works. Instead of waiting for your puppy to do something wrong, catch him doing something right. Mark that behavior with a distinctive signal so the puppy understands THAT action (the sit, for example) is what you like. You can use a special word like YES!, or a signal like a click from a clicker. The clicker simply explains to the puppy he was right. Then reward him with praise, treats, or a toy. Choose whatever floats your puppy’s boat, and reserve the most prized reward for these training sessions.
Explaining the “Click”
To speed up the process, trainers recommend you "load” the clicker so that the pup quickly identifies the sound with a forthcoming reward. Here’s how to do that.
- Fill a shallow dish with smelly treats. Liver bits, cheese, slices of hot dog or other strong scented morsels work best. This isn’t about filling his tummy and spoiling his proper nutrition, so the tidbits shouldn’t be bigger than the tip of your little finger. You want the pup to appreciate the smell and taste and want more.
- Get comfortable on the floor with the dish within reach but so the pup can’t access. Get a treat ready in one hand with the clicker in the other.
- CLICK the clicker, and when the pup’s ears twitch or he otherwise comes to investigate, immediately give the treat. He won’t know why or care at first — it’ll be all about getting that next taste.
- Repeat the sequence over and over. Always click first, then treat. Click-treat. Click-treat. Click-treat. Be sure he has a chance to swallow before proceeding to the next click-treat.
- Very quickly, the pup should look at your treat hand as soon as the click sounds. Eureka! That means his puppy brain has connected the dots and he understands that CLICK signals a treat coming for him.
- Once the pup understands what the click-treat sequence is about, you can use the signal to point out the behavior you like and reward with the treat. You simply wait for the puppy to plant his tail in a sit, for example, and immediately click-treat.
- The pup may look confused. He’ll come to you, perhaps paw your leg, run around, trying to figure out what made the “click” sound. When he again sits, click/treat . . . and watch the wheels turn. After only two-to-four repeats, many puppies figure out they control if they get a treat by their behavior.
Puppies understand cause-and-effect (their action makes you click-treat) very quickly. Before long, your baby will volunteer all sorts of behaviors in an attempt to make you click and give a treat. He figures out that he can turn you into a treat-dispenser once he figures out what you want.
Puppies trained using clicker training spend time doing just that — trying to please you. Don’t you perform better when you anticipate being paid for a good effort?