Looking for a way to train your puppy using positive reinforcement? Then puppy clicker training might be right for you.
It’s an effective tool that can help with house training puppies, managing unwanted puppy behavior, and keeping your dog safe. (And let’s face it—puppies have a way of getting into trouble and getting hurt, which is why it’s smart to insure them early!)
What is clicker training?
A dog clicker is a small handheld device that makes a clicking sound when you press it. You can find them online or at pet supply stores. There are even clicker apps you can download on your smartphone. A retractable pen can also serve as a good clicker if it makes a sound that’s loud and clear enough.
The idea behind clicker training your dog is quite simple. You give your puppy a command, like sit or stay. Then the moment your puppy does what you’ve asked, you use the clicker to make a clicking noise and offer a small treat with lots of praise. With time and patience, your puppy will start to associate the sound of the click as a bridge between the behavior and treat, resulting in the click serving as secondary reinforcement.
Not everyone offers a dog treat after every click, but it can be helpful, especially in the early stages of puppy clicker training. You can also stop offering treats when your puppy gets the hang of it.
10 Puppy Clicker Training Tips
A Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) is a useful resource for training tips, but these 10 can help you get started. Most importantly, be sure to have fun with it. Using a dog clicker can be a bonding experience that deepens your relationship with your puppy.
1. Avoid noisy places.
Begin clicker training your puppy in a quiet area where there are few distractions. This way, your puppy will be better able to focus and hear the clicking noise.
2. Don’t train on a full tummy.
Puppy clicker training should take place when you know your little furball has an appetite—not right after mealtime. If your puppy has a belly full of food, he or she may be tired and less interested in treat rewards.
3. Timing is key.
Make sure you click while you’re puppy is performing the task or behavior. If you’re too early or too late, your puppy may have trouble associating the click with the behavior you’re trying to teach.
4. Think about snapping a picture.
One way to help you get the timing down is to pretend you’re taking a picture. Press the dog clicker the moment when you’d be able to capture a shot of your puppy in mid-action.
5. Start with simple behaviors.
It can be easier to get started with natural actions, like responding when you call your puppy’s name. Click at the exact moment your puppy looks at you. From there, you can move on to other simple behaviors, like sitting or lying down.
6. Catch your puppy in the act.
If you see your puppy about to perform a behavior you’ve been working on, such as sitting or lying down, use the clicker and offer praise and a treat, if you have one handy. This can help reinforce the puppy clicker training process.
7. Nudge your puppy along.
Another way to help your puppy training progress is to lure your pooch into performing a behavior. For instance, gently nudge (never force, push, or pull) your puppy into a sitting position with the clicker in your hand. When your puppy complies, click and offer a treat. If your puppy jumps back up, repeat the process.
8. Keep it short to start.
Puppies by nature have short attention spans, so keep clicker training practice brief at first—maybe 5 minutes or so. Puppies can learn a lot in short bursts because they’re more interested and engaged. Long and boring clicker training sessions can be frustrating for both of you.
9. Only click once.
If you’re especially proud of your puppy, you can offer an extra treat or more praise, but don’t increase the number of clicks. This can confuse your puppy and slow down the clicker training process.
10. Click good behaviors.
You can click good behaviors to help teach your puppy the right way to do things and stop bad behaviors. For instance, if your puppy tends to pee on the carpet, give a click when he or she goes to the bathroom in an appropriate place. If your puppy jumps all over guests, click when paws remain on the floor when a visitor arrives.
11. Click for partial success.
You don’t have to hold your click until your puppy gets it exactly right. You can click for small steps in the right direction. For example, if you tell your puppy to sit, and he or she begins to crouch down, click even if your puppy gets back up on all fours.
12. Take breaks as needed.
Puppy clicker training requires time and patience. If you or your puppy starts getting frustrated, put the clicker down for awhile. Avoid scolding or punishing your puppy while clicker training, since it can be confusing to mix in negative reinforcement. The clicker is all about reinforcing behaviors in a positive way.
You can also use clicker training to help crate train your puppy. Just click when your little furball goes into the crate. Learn how to crate train your puppy.
Reminder: Treats should not make up more than 10% of a pet’s caloric intake. Also, stomach upset may occur in pets who do not tolerate dietary changes well.