Clicker training is a fun reward-based training method for your pet. Derived from training techniques used for many years with marine mammals, it works by clearly rewarding the animal for doing the right thing, as opposed to some more traditional training methods that work by punishing for doing the wrong thing (eg choke chains).
How does it work?
Clicker training is based on the principle that animals learn by association: if two events occur close together they learn that the two are connected. For example, if you gave your pet a food reward every time they sat they would soon learn that sitting was worthwhile and they would do it more.
Getting precise timing with food rewards isn’t easy though; your pet may be at a distance from you, and it takes time to give the treat to them. This is where the clicker comes in – we first teach them that the click sound is associated with a food reward. When they know this, at the instant you sound the clicker you are giving the message “what you are doing this very second is right, I want you to do it more, and you’ll get a reward very shortly”. Having clicked, you need to make good on this “promise” by giving them a food treat as soon as possible.
You can buy a clicker from Pets at Home.
To start clicker training you need a clicker, and lots of small tasty treats that your pet finds highly desirable.
For a dog, good things to try include cheese chopped into small cubes, small sliced hotdog sausage and dried liver treats. To get both you and your pet used to the clicker try scattering half a dozen treats on the floor at a time, and practice clicking at the exact moment your pet picks each one of them up. A few five minute sessions like this will “charge up your clicker”, and your pet will now understand the connection between clicks and rewards.
Only use the clicker in this way. Don’t click it randomly or point it at your pet and expect them to do what you want – it’s not a remote control!
Free shaping is when you use the clicker to reinforce (reward) a behaviour that your pet shows naturally. As they learn that the behaviour is rewarding, they will perform it more often, and you can then selectively reward only the best examples, “shaping” the behaviour as you desire. For example, to teach a sit with free-shaping you would click and treat your pet every time you saw them sit. You might then want to shape towards a quicker “sit”, and to do this you would move to only clicking the quickest, neatest “sits”.
Alternatively you can help your pet to show the behaviour, and reward them when they get it right. For example, to teach a sit you can hold a treat in your hand and lift it over the pet’s head; as they follow it with their nose they will tend to sit down, and you would click the instant their bottom hit the ground. With repetitions you could stop using the treat (“fading the lure”), and add a vocal command.
Blog written by Huw Stacey
Veterinary Surgeon & Behaviourist at Companion Care Vets
A List of Related Articles Follow ...
Keep Active Blog
Its time to Party!
Have you considered adopting a pet?
Remember Remember your pets on the 5th of November