Clicker training is a method of positive reinforcement dog training. A small handheld device that makes a clicking sound is used to mark a desirable behavior such as "sit" or "stay." So when you tell your dog "sit," you click the clicker when its rear end hits the floor, followed by a treat.
Although most dogs catch on to clicker training pretty easily, sometimes it can take a bit longer, or, your dog may need to be retrained if you get out of the habit.
Clicker Training and Treats
When you click your clicker to mark a behavior, you must give your dog a treat. You need to teach your dog that the sound of the click is an extremely reliable predictor that it is about to get a treat.
If you don't always give a treat after you click, the clicker begins to lose some of its effectiveness. You don't always have to use a clicker when you train your dog, but if you click, you must give a treat.
Marking Behaviors With a Clicker
The clicker is meant to mark the desired behavior at a precise moment. Don't click your clicker if you're training your dog to sit unless its butt is on the floor. Click at the exact second the dog executes the behavior so it associates the click with the action.
Clicker training is especially helpful when you graduate to training your dog to execute more complicated behaviors such as "roll over." You can use the clicker to mark the completed behavior, rather than just letting the dog roll halfway over and lie on its back.
When to Give a Treat
If you click your clicker and then take more than a second or two to give your dog a treat, your dog may not understand that there is any connection between the sound of the click and getting a treat. The training will not be successful unless the dog knows a click equals a treat.
Using a Clicker to Capture Behaviors
Capturing behaviors is a great way to teach your dog new behaviors with very little effort on your part. Keep your clicker and a handful of treats handy, and whenever you catch your dog doing something you like, simply click and treat. You may be surprised at how quickly your dog can learn new behaviors this way.
Shaping Behaviors With a Clicker
You can also train your dog step-by-step by shaping behaviors with the clicker. This technique allows you to break down more complicated actions into smaller steps so they become easier for your dog to learn. The clicker is particularly helpful in these multi-phase tricks.
Problems and Proofing Behavior
It can be frustrating when your dog seems to know a command and then begins to make repeated mistakes. Chances are you probably moved ahead a little too quickly, and now your dog is confused about what you want it to do. Instead of scolding him, go back a step or two in the training process, and then begin to move ahead more slowly.
For example, if you are teaching your dog to stay, it may do fine when you have it hold the stay for five seconds, but can't hold for a longer period of time. Try going back to having the dog hold the stay for five seconds, and then click and treat. Practice a few times, and then add a few more seconds to the stay.
If the dog seems to forget the command, sometimes it means a break is in order. Don't keep pushing a training session when your dog has lost interest. Ten to 15 minutes a few times a day is more than enough. You don't want your dog to have a negative association with the clicker, so know when it's time to quit and try again later.
When your dog appears to have mastered a command, you can proof the behavior by trying it in another location. So if you've clicker-trained the dog to "sit" in your living room, try again in the kitchen and see what the result is. Using the clicker should reinforce the behavior no matter where your dog is, but changing the location will only strengthen the association with the command.