In Part I of this two-part article, you will learn how to handle a clicker and practice good clicker mechanics. In Part II, you will learn how to teach your dog a simple behavior using clicker training.

Supplies Needed

You will need a clicker, two cups and a handful of dry beans.

What is Clicker Training?

Clicker training is a type of reward-based (a.k.a. “positive reinforcement”) training. It derives its name from the fact that a hand-held, plastic device called a “clicker” is used to communicate with an animal during training. The clicker produces an audible marker signal used to indicate to the animal exactly which behavior (s) will be rewarded.

For an animal to associate a reward with a behavior and therefore be motivated to repeat the behavior, he needs to know exactly which behavior will earn rewards. Since rewarding an animal during performance isn’t always practical, a click or other marker signal is used to “bridge” the gap between the behavior and the reward so that the animal makes the correct association.

The click-click sound of the clicker communicates, “Yes, that’s right!” at a precise moment in time. Other sounds, including the exclamation, “Yes!” can be used as marker signals, but a clicker produces a unique and consistent sound, devoid of any emotional inflection.

A clicker is only used during teaching, not performance. Once an animal has learned a specific behavior, clicking is no longer necessary or appropriate since the animal has learned which behavior (s) will be rewarded. Positive reinforcement training works because animals repeat what is rewarding and don’t repeat what is not rewarding.

In clicker training, the cue is taught after the animal has learned a behavior. Once a behavior is “on cue,” the animal reliably responds to the designated cue, the marker signal is eliminated, and reinforcement is put on a “variable” schedule that includes non-food rewards such as play.