Dog Clicker Training Guide

If you've heard about clicker training for your dog, but don't know what it is or where to start, keep reading.

In 1992 Karen Pryor and Gary Wilkes created clicker training, a specific form of positive reinforcement dog training. A trainer sounds a clicker at the precise moment a dog does what the trainer wants, then immediately rewards that behavior with a treat. Clicker training can be used for puppies and senior dogs.

When used correctly, clicker training can help trainers and dogs pull off all kinds of tricks! Luckily, using clicker training correctly is a breeze once you understand how a clicker works and some basic rules.

If clicker training sounds like something you would like to try with your dog, read on.

What Is Clicker Training?

Clicker training, a.k.a. marker training, involves using a specific sound — the “click” from the clicker — to inform your dog the behavior they just performed was the behavior you were looking for. The clicker takes the confusion out of training. Your dog knows exactly what they did right the moment they do it.

How Do I Make the Clicker Work?

First, you need to “charge” it — pairing the sound of the clicker with a reward. The reward can be food, but some dogs prefer play, so dog toys can also be used.

To start with, your dog doesn’t have to do anything in particular. If they are politely waiting for a food reward, that’s good enough. Simply press the clicker to create the noise, then give your dog a treat. Repeat this process until the connection has been made. You will know you’ve been successful when your dog looks around at the clicking sound, anticipating a treat.

Once the pairing has been made, you can use your clicker to train your dog to do all kinds of tricks and behaviors. Having fun with clicker training a great way to pass time with your dog. Just remember to keep your training sessions short, as clicker work is mentally exhausting for your dog.

Two Rules of Clicker Training

If You Click, You Must Reward

Regardless of your reason for clicking, even if you accidentally sat on your clicker, you must reward your dog. Every time. If you don’t, the connection between the noise and reward will start to break down, making your clicker less effective in the future.

Clickers Are Not Remote Controls

Clickers reinforce behavior, making your dog much more likely to repeat that behavior in the future. But a clicker isn’t a remote control. If you click your dog as they run across the park to get them to come back, they are more likely to run away in the future. Don’t make that dog training mistake. Instead, use your clicker to communicate approval of positive behaviors.

Not All Dogs Like Clickers

Dogs have much better hearing than we do and they may not like the noise. The clicking may also be scary for dogs who are sound sensitive. Consider both factors before you introduce your dog to a clicker.

Clicker training is an easy way to tell your dog when they’ve done what you wanted them to do. Reinforcement drives behavior, so the more often you click and treat, the more likely your dog is to repeat that behavior.

John Woods
John Woods is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and has been a dog lover since he was 13 years old. He is also graduate in animal welfare and behavior and a recognized author by the Dog Writers Association of America.