Is Clicker Training Effective for Puppies?
Clicker training is an effective, easy alternative to food based training. It uses a system of positive reinforcement to associate a stimulus (the clicker) to a sense of reward. In its simplest form, a clicker is a plastic box which holds a metal tongue. By compressing this thin piece of metal, you can create a loud clicking sound. This ‘click’ rewards a specific behaviour and encourages your puppy to want to please you more.
The main advantage of training your puppy with a clicker is that it rewards the specific behaviour your puppy is performing. Unlike with praise or food based training, clicker training wont distract your puppy from what they are doing. Because the clicker is loud, quick, and subtle, many owners will find that they can train their puppies quicker with clicker training than with other forms of puppy training.
Is Clicker Training Better than Food Lure Training
When looking to train their puppies, most owners will turn to food to reward their dog for positive behaviours. Undoubtedly, food based rewards (called food lure training) are essential in training your puppy, especially during the initial stages. Unfortunately, there are some serious drawbacks of food lure training in the long term. These include:
- Puppies may become bored with treats – Especially as they begin to mature and their appetite begins to slow.
- Over-treating can lead to canine obesity.
- Using treats can condition your puppy to only perform certain behaviours when they know that you are holding a treat. This will make it harder to command your dog when you’re out and about and don’t have treats.
- Treats can distract your puppy, causing them to forget what they did to earn the treat in the first place.
Clicker training is consistent. The clicker will always emit the same ‘click’ sound. This means that anyone from the family can train your puppy using the clicker. Unlike verbal commands, the clicker will always remain the same.
How to Clicker Train a Puppy?
- Find the perfect location. The first step to clicker training is to prepare to train. Begin in a safe and comfortable environment for both you and your pup. This location should be free from noise and distractions such as other people, animals, or food.
- Associate the ‘click’ sound with a reward. The next, and arguably most important step is to create a relationship between the sound of the ‘click’ with a sense of reward. While holding the clicker out of view, begin to treat your puppy using small treats; mince or cubes of loaf meat are effective. Associate the click with reward by creating a click-treat-click-treat pattern.
- Continue to associate the click with reward. This can be doneby treating your dog after a click every so often. This will ensure that your puppy doesn’t become bored with the clicker.
Now you can begin to actually ‘train’ your puppy. In obedience training, the idea is to lure your dog into performing the behaviour you want and then rewarding him for doing so.
To perform this process with a clicker, all you need to do is replace a treat with the clicker. For example, you can lure your dog into a sitting position by holding a treat in front of your puppy’s nose and moving your hand over its head. Your puppy will follow the treat and in doing so, will force their bottom onto the floor. This gives you the opportunity to treat your puppy by clicking and feeding him the treat. Continue to perform this motion with treats until you feel confident that your puppy will follow your hand even without the treat.
Now perform the motion without the treat and reward your puppy if they do sit. If they don’t sit, don’t click. You may have to reintroduce treats, especially in the early stages. But try to keep this at a minimum. The clicker should be a sufficient reward once your dog has learnt the necessary technique.
Continue to follow this process and you will see your dog rapidly learns to love the clicker. As they become rewarded more often, they will likely become more eager to please you than before. Intermittently provide treats alongside the ‘click’ to continue to associate the clicker with reward.
For more information on how to train a puppy, check out our Puppy Training Basics article, here. To apply these methods to clicker training, simply replace the treat with a ‘click’ once your puppy has learnt to associate your signals or commands with a behaviour (the word sit or a closed fist, with the action of sitting).
Should I Clicker Train My Puppy?
Some new puppy owners express concerns about training their puppies too early. The simple answer is that if you want a beautiful, obedient, and calm nature dog, the most important thing you can do is train your puppy from a young age. Unlike humans, dogs and puppies are programmed to learn from a very young age. This means that they pick up good and bad habits very early. If obedience is something you expect from your dog, then start training them early! If you want to use clicker training, then there is no reason to avoid this.
Although you and your puppy may be eager to learn and train together, it’s important to remember that young dogs can become tired and stressed very easily. Patience is the key to effective puppy training. Let your puppy have breaks between commands and pay attention for queues that indicate when it’s time to call it a day.
Training your new puppy is one of the most important and memorable experiences you can have together. You can work on your bond by enrolling in a puppy pre-school where a dedicated instructor will guide you through the best techniques for training. The clicker can be the perfect tool for making the most of this time with your puppy. Talk to your instructor about tips on how to maximise the effectiveness of your clicker.