Dog training is necessary no matter what breed your dog is, or whatever its age when you welcome them into your home. While beginning to train your dog early in its life is ideal, never be disheartened by the adage “old dogs can’t learn new tricks”, as older dogs can also benefit greatly from training.
There are a myriad of training styles, and different dog owners will swear by their own methods. Click training is one training method that tends to produce great results. Click training makes copious use of positive reinforcement, as opposed to alpha dog training, which utilizes aggressive techniques in order to show a dog who’s boss. Click trainers focus on rewarding dogs for correct behavior, rather than trying to strong-arm them into being submissive.
How do you train with a clicker?
The clicker is a simple device consisting of a plastic container with a metal tongue. With pressed, the clicker produces a clicking sound. The clicker is typically pressed when a dog has behaved correctly, and the sound helps to reinforce the fact that he has done something right. In this way, the dog learns over time what behavior is appropriate when he receives certain commands.
Click training is often preferred to methods like alpha dog training as the trainer does not have to resort to punishing the dog or using force, which can be a lot less stressful for both dog and trainer.
Training your dog effectively involves administering the click consistently whenever your dog demonstrates good behavior. The click should sound at the same time the dog behaves well and not after, so the dog learns to associate the behavior with the click.
Dogs often respond positively to click training, since it feeds their natural love for learning and helps to generate enthusiasm about gaining a reward. At the same time, dogs need not fear punishment, which to many trainers is more humane than more forceful methods.
Clickers are often preferred to treats or food, because relying on treats can quickly lead to the dog growing overweight. Some dogs also stop responding to certain treats when they have grown tired of the taste. Another drawback of using treats is that some dogs refuse to exhibit the desired behavior in the absence of treats.
When and how do you ‘charge’ the clicker?
In order to make clicker training effective for your dog, you need to ‘charge’ or condition the clicker. That means you will need to condition your pet to unconsciously associate the clicker with reinforcement. You also want to condition the dog to respond to a click in hopes of producing a second click.
The clicker can usually be conditioned within the very first training session, often within minutes, simply by marking certain behaviors consistently with the clicker when they happen. It is also important to apply clicking to a wide range of behaviors so the dog does not start to think there is only one way to produce clicks.
Charging up the clicker prevents a dog from associating certain behaviors with anything other than clicking. For instance, if you are inconsistent with your delivery of clicks or sometimes substitute clicks with rewards like treats or petting, conditioning can fade. When you charge up the clicker, you offer a string of clicks and treats one after the other perhaps ten or twenty times in quick succession, just to keep that conditioning strong.
Charging up the clicker should not only be done at the dog’s very first training lessons, but whenever the trainer feels the dog is no longer responding as well to the clicks or seems to be awaiting some other signal. For instance, if a dog does not respond when it hears a click by stopping its behavior, but instead appears to be observing your hand, it is likely that the dog now associates your hand movements with good behavior, rather than the clicker. At this point, it is time to charge up the clicker once again.
The importance of intermittent rewarding
When employing clicker training, it is important to intermittently reward the dog throughout the training session. Once it is clear the dog understands that a click signals a reward, you can then space out rewards at random intervals. For instance, a reward can be given following the second click, and then at the fifth and sixth. You might then switch to rewarding at the third click. Intermittent rewarding tends to encourage the dog to continue displaying the desired behavior for a longer stretch of time, which also means you need not charge the clicker as often. Interestingly, this concept is also applied to keep humans hooked to casino gaming machines.
Clicker training is a great method for people who prefer not to use alpha training methods designed to force their dogs into submission. The positive reinforcement provided by clicker training keeps dogs happy and eager to learn.