How Does Clicker Training Work?

How Does Clicker Training Work?

Before getting into discussing how clicker training works, it may important to define what clicker training really means. Clicker training can be defined as a form of animal training based on behavioral psychology that depends on taking note of a desirable behavior and rewarding it. During the process, a desirable behavior is usually marked with a “clicker.”


A clicker is simply a mechanical device that produces a short but distinct clicking sound that tells the animal being trained exactly when they are doing the right thing. This method of dog training may appear very simple but it is the single most humane, safe and effective way to train your dog to learn anything their intellect can take in. So how does clicker training work?

Lead and clicker training for a miniature poodle puppy in the garden.

Lead and clicker training for a miniature poodle puppy in the garden.


It Is Based On Solid Science

All animals to some extent learn by association. Scientists call this classical conditioning. Literally an animal makes a connection between a particular command given and the desired behavior. In clicker training, the dog learns to associate the sound of the click with a particular behavior. Initially, the sound of the clicker means nothing to the dog but soon the dog realizes that such sound is followed with a treat. Slowly, he or she learns to pay close attention to the click knowing that something tasty is coming.


In this case, the food is termed primary reinforcer. It is called primary because it is something the dog does not learn to like-they naturally have the need for it. Reinforcer on the other hand defines the outcomes that strengthen the behavior which produced it. For example, in training your dog, you call his name, he looks at you and then you give it food. In this case, the food reinforces looking at you. If done repeatedly, the dog will associate calling its name and looking at you even without the treat.


A Clicker Establishes Desired Behavior

So what does the clicker do in the end? The most important reason for using the sound of a clicker is to help the dog make an association and, therefore, establish a desired behavior in the dog. In a nutshell, the clicker helps the dog to identify the desired behavior. Consistently hearing the sound of the clicker and responding appropriately will start establishing the desired behavior little by little until it becomes part of the dog’s behavior.


Why Does It Have To Be A Clicker?

The click sound is special to dog training compared to all other sounds a dog can hear. According to experts, dogs hear this sound more distinctly and clearly compared to all other sounds. While dogs can hear most of the words humans say, they cannot make out their meanings. This makes it difficult to train dogs by speaking to them. The sound of the clicker, on the other hand, speaks volumes to them. They first hear it when they come to training and therefore pay more attention especially when paired with a reward. Dog trainers take advantage of this opportunity to help the dog learn new behaviors and responses.


The most important reason behind using a clicker is that fact that it produces consistent and precise sound unlike human speech that is full of inflections and variations in tone and speed. The consistency of the sound also makes the learning process much easier and fruitful. It takes dogs time to learn because they have inferior brains but once they have successfully learned something, it becomes part of them for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, you do not have to use a real clicker as any other thing that produces short, quick sound can suffice.


Dependency Is a Potential Risk  

The clicker is only meant to be used for a short period of time before being withdrawn. Once the dog learns the desired behavior, the trainer is supposed to withdraw the treat progressively before completely removing it. If this is not done, the dog may develop dependency such that it will only perform the desired behavior in response to the sound of the clicker.


This can be disastrous because the dog will not have learned the desired behavior. To avoid dependency, experts recommend that your trainers only use the clicker during the first few repetitions of each given command. The good news is that most dogs do not unlearn something once they have mastered it. This is what makes clicker training so effective.

Bottom Line

Utilizing clicker training can be a very useful tool in teaching your dog new behaviors and commands.  By following this time-tested approach of classical conditioning, you and your really smart dog will have fun and success in establishing learning and bonding experiences.

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