It is advisable to enrol on a clicker training course for your puppy or adult dog. Contact the APDT, APBC or COAPE, to find a dog trainer in your area. If this is not possible, here are a few tips to get your puppy training started.
- Once you have acquired your clicker, check to see if your puppy/dog is sound sensitive. To do this, put the clicker in your pocket (to muffle the sound) before you press it. If your pet runs away or looks fearful, you should use a clicker word instead. The word you use must be short and different from your every day vocabulary, bingo! is a good one.
- Click & treat the start of your session, choose a phrase to tell your puppy what is about to happen (lets work), also tell puppy when the session has finished, (that's it)! The click is a reward marker, you will also have to use a signal when you choose not to c&t what puppy has offered, This will help him cope with frustration when he does not get an expected food reward!
- Click means good! So, if you like something your dog has done, like a sit, click and then give a food reward. Repeat the c&t every time puppy sits. Don't always have the food in your hands, try to work as much as you can with it in a pot on a work top, or in a treat bag when out, otherwise your puppy/dog may only learn to respond to you when he knows you have food in your hand!
- We don't always wait for a behaviour to happen before clicking & treating during a training session. That can take too long, and become boring for both you and your puppy/dog. We would lure and shape instead.
- Luring & shaping: Luring has been used in conventional training for years, the only problem with this method alone is, the puppy has to do the full behaviour before getting the reward, this can result in frustration all-round! With our clicker we can c&t little bits of what we like. For example, to teach the down when puppy is sitting, put the treat on his nose and slowly move your hand towards the floor. As puppy‘s nose moves down, c&t, if a paw moves forward, c&t, when puppy does the whole behaviour you can click and give a jackpot (more than one treat), do not multiple click as a reward.
- If you click at the wrong time, you think puppy is about to sit, but he jumps up instead, you still have to treat your puppy/dog (clicker training is forgiving) so, don't worry, practice makes perfect!
- Have a break after 5 or 10 minutes (clicker training is tiring for puppies), he is having to use his brain to problem solve. Puppies/dogs‘ also experience latent learning like humans. For example, if you are shaping a behaviour but puppy is not getting it, end the session on a good note, c&t something he does know. When you begin the next training session puppy may well surprise you by offering the behaviour that you were previously asking for after only a couple of shapings.
- Hands off! Remember, try not stroke your puppy whilst clicking and treating, he may well feel stressed (and back off), he is expecting the food as a reward, not you petting him! This is a tall order for many people, especially when puppy does something fantastic, just remember to multiple treat instead!
- Gentle handling: It is important to incorporate gentle handling in your daily clicker sessions. Choose times when puppy is calm (not during a mad half hour), if he is quite mouthy, stop the session and resume when puppy is less aroused. Get someone to c&t while you handle puppy. Lift a paw, c&t good accepting responses. Check his eyes, ears and teeth. Don't forget to tell him what you are about to do. Also use the clicker to get puppy used to being groomed (including clippers) and nail trimming.
- If you are not in a good mood, or you feel your patience ebbing, stop! Puppy/dog training should be fun, you will not get very far for punishing your puppy by getting cross.
- You may be wondering when do we say the command? The answer to this is, when the behaviour is reliably being offered and you can predict it. Say the word just before you think he is about to do it, then c&t. When puppy has learnt the word you can begin to raise the criteria by asking for two sits before a c&t, then gradually increase until puppy is doing multiple behaviours for less reward. You will no longer need the clicker once you have achieved this point. It is only a tool to teach new behaviours.
NOTE: Online clicker training sessions & behavioural consults available, see 'online training'.