Clicker Training is a set of techniques that have proven to be a good way for people to teach a dog new behaviors. This is a positive reward approach. This means that a dog will strive to do the correct thing to be rewarded. Food treats are typically used for this.
Karen Pryor is the main driver of this set of techniques. She is an animal behaviorist that has written extensively on this subject and other behavior related subjects. She started out as a dolphin trainer and has modified the techniques to work well for dogs. She also has a modified teaching protocol for kids called TAG Teaching. Her book “Don’t Shoot the Dog” provides a wonderful overview of this technique and the basic concepts that are used with Clicker Training. I have read through this book several times and find new information each time.
To boil the techniques down, the idea is that a click provides a marker in time that tells the animal when it has done something right. It remains the responsibility of the trainer to determine how to break a behavior down into small enough increments that the animal can understand what is required.
The first step to teaching a dog with Clicker techniques is to “load” the dog. This means that you are going to introduce the clicker as a wonderful thing. With repetition the clicker actually will take the place of the treat and become its own reward. We are not going to force this though. Loading allows us, as trainers, to fumble the treat and still get the mark that rewards the dog at the right time.
Loading starts by getting your pet to sit in front of you. In one hand you have a clicker, in the other hand, a handful of small soft treats. The treats should be something that you dog likes and should be small (pea sized) and easy to eat without requiring a lot of chewing. I use small bits of hot dog that have been microwaved to the consistency of jerky.
Get the dog’s attention, click and give the dog a treat. Each time the dog looks at you, click and give a treat. What you are doing here is connecting the clicker and the treat in the dogs mind. You are asking for nothing more than to get the dog to pay attention to you. When this happens, click and treat. Try to get the treat to the dog in under 2 seconds. Keep this up for about 10 minutes, then quit for a while. Repeat this several times a day for about a week. As you progress, you can start your session with the dog away from you. If you don’t have the dog’s attention and you click, the dog should come over and look for a treat. Repeat this for a few sessions. Make sure that when you click, there is ALWAYS a treat available. You want the dog to expect a reward every time that a click happens.