Animal Behavior Network

Positive Dog Parenting®

by Rolan Tripp, DVM and Susan Tripp, MS/P

Invest just minutes daily learning how to raise the dog of your dreams and a best friend for life!

Need Help? 

Call 1-800-372-3706
to speak to a Veterinary Behavior Technician

Paws To Speak!

Member Main Menu

Pet Professional Tip

Note: Problems with a clicker in group settings such as a veterinary practice or home with multiple pets.  All pets hear the clicker even if you are targeting one. Over time, if a reinforce (food, toy, praise, etc.) does not follow the click, learned behaviors will most likely decay and then stop.

Help is at your fingertips by library, email and phone.

Click on Library Icon
to learn more

All Pets | Topics by Age | Topics by Category | All Dogs | Media Center |    Print

What is a Clicker

The clicker is a small plastic box with a metal strip that makes a sharp, clicking sound when pushed and released. One value of the clicker is the unique sound that doesn't get lost.  Verbal cues can be lost as "Blah, blah, blah" if we say too much instead of limiting communication to specific words only. If you carry a clicker, you can give immediate feedback that means, "A treat is coming." People often forget to give immediate praise.  Carrying a clicker is a good reminder to click when the dog is being good. Clickers also deliver better precision and clarity in reinforcing a desirable behavior.  Saying, "Yes" or "Good" gives clear and precise praise better than saying," Good dog!" 

In behavior modification terms, you are "pairing" the clicker with a strong reinforcer. Any behavior that the dog begins to pair with a "reinforcer" - something the dog really wants - is more likely to be repeated. When clickers are used correctly, they are powerful tools for training and shaping desirable pet behaviors.

Click and Reward

Clicker training is one form of positive reinforcement training. The dog does a behavior you want, you immediately click, and then give the dog something he values such as a tasty treat. This is a GREAT tool for the dog that is difficult to lure into a "down" position!

Introducing the Clicker

To get started, teach the dog that one click means a treat is on the way. Show the clicker to the dog then click and deliver a treat. Repeat this sequence a few times in a row until the dog begins to look for the treat when he hears the click. Then you are ready to use the clicker to communicate to your dog what behaviors get rewarded.

The easiest reinforcer is a tasty food treat but if your dog is not motivated by food (not even before meals when very hungry) then you may need to use a different reward such as tossing a ball or a favorite toy or offering a chew that is not available at other time. The clicker must become the magical treat delivery machine.

Research has shown that any animal—whether a dog, cat, dolphin, parrot, fish, horse, or human—is more likely to learn and repeat actions that result in consequences he values.

Now you are ready to watch the dog carefully for natural behaviors that you can predict and want your dog to repeat more often such as sitting, laying down, going potty in the preferred location or resting quietly on his mat, or chewing on the correct item.  While the dog is performing this good behavior, click, praise, and deliver something the dog values and never gets for free.

Cause and Effect

Dogs develop confidence and are calmer when they have control over the consequences of their actions. They are also enthusiastic because they anticipate enjoyable consequences.
Simply put, an animal tends to repeat an action that has a positive, predictable consequence.

Shaping Behaviors

To shape a new behavior, such as "shake hands" use the clicker to reinforce baby steps that move the dog closer and closer to the actual behavior you want. For example, if you want to teach your dog to "shake" begin by clicking and treating if he simply raises his paw just a little.  As the dog lifts the paw higher, up the reward and praise. Eventually, you will only reward the higher raises of the paw. Continue in small steps so the dog does not get discouraged and give up. Once the dog understands what is being rewarded,  you can begin to reach for the paw, say shake, and click. Only click when the dog does not withdraw the paw as you reach. Your reach is becoming a new cue. Dogs always learn the body language or hand signal before they learn the verbal cue. Breaking the behavior down into little steps helps the dog learn more quickly how to do what it is you want.

Behaviors that animals do naturally can be taught by following four simple steps:

  1. Identify the behavior you want then watch the pet so you can reinforce the behavior by delivering something the pet values while still doing the behavior. For example, when the dog lies down, you give the dog a chew. Once the dog begins to look at you for reward, then try the lure.
  2. Use food to lure the pet into the desired position such as "sit" and "down" then reward with food.
  3. Mark desirable behaviors with an immediate, unique sound that is followed by a reward. When the dog lies down, click, then get the dog a food treat.
  4. Reinforce desired behaviors with immediate rewards that the dog really wants.

Improving Relationships between People and Pets!

MyABN         Library         Contact ABN         Privacy Policy

Copyright © 2001-Present All Rights Reserved Dr. Rolan and Susan Tripp | Animal Behavior Network & Affiliates