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Should I add a clicker to my dog training method?

Woman teaching dog to jump

Do you want to teach your dog to high-five? Would you like to train your dog to talk with dog buttons?  How proud would you be if you could train your dog to get help when someone is in distress?  Not all heroes wear capes after all! Some have wet noses, wagging tails and give slobbery kisses.  Are clickers the answer to your dog training goals?  Read on. These questions are answered and more!

Man's hand holding clicker

What is a clicker? A clicker is a hand-held (usually plastic) tool that fits in the palm of your hand. It has a cool little thumb tip sized button. When you press the button, it makes a short clicking sound.  The click you hear when you click a retractable pen is similar but softer and less noticeable to a dog. Some clickers even have handy-dandy wrist bands, keyrings, and lights!  You can find them online, at pet stores, and in most big box stores. They typically sell for under $10.00 USD.

Dog high-fivingHow does a clicker help? The idea behind clicker training is to use the sound to mark desired behaviors.  The sound acts as a reinforcement, especially when the click is accompanied by a treat. Lots of treats! It was first developed by B.F. Skinner, an American Psychologist most well-known for developing the theory of behaviorism. It has been used with all sorts of animals – cats, rabbits, horses, chicken, fish, crabs, rats, dolphins, whales, tigers, and elephants.  It has even been used to train resident surgeons!
Dog holding stick in his mouth


You probably can’t train your dog to do surgery, with or without a clicker, but there are all sorts of things your dog can learn to do with clicker-training. These are our top 10 suggestions:

Approach – Teaching a dog to approach or come when called is foundational. Without the ability to call your dog, it would be difficult to teach them anything else!

Eat – Sounds strange, right? We don’t necessarily tell our family members when to eat but we definitely set an eating schedule by making, giving, and eating meals at certain times of the day.  Your dog needs that same structure.  In addition to the benefits of being consistent with your schedule, teaching a dog to eat when told provides the structure they need to avoid bad eating behaviors, like eating your pizza when you get up from the couch to grab the drinks!

Three dogs sitting on the grass.
Sit, stay, calm – When it comes to basic training, sit, stay and calm are the classics. Who doesn’t want their dog to sit, stay and be calm (i.e., quit trying to scare the Amazon delivery person)?

Rollover or spin – Nothing thrills guests and extended family more than seeing the newest family member spin or rollover on command. You can use clicker training to teach these oldies but goodies!

Dog shaking a paw.

Shake a paw or high five – Hand to paw contact is so heart-warming. Whether it is simply hand/paw holding or shake a paw or high five, nothing beats being offered a paw! 

Dog sitting with stuffed animals.

Clean up the toys – If you can’t teach the kids this trick, maybe it is best to focus on the dog. Who knows? Maybe the kids will see how easy it is for the dog and take a hint!
Dog sitting pretty with womanSit pretty – We know, your dog is pretty even when they aren’t sitting. But you have to admit, it is pretty adorable to see a dog resting on its hind legs with its front legs in the air.  It really is pretty!

Boy giving dog a hug.

Give hugs and kisses – Again, if the humans can’t learn these tricks, there is always your dog. If the training works, you will have an endless supply of hugs and kisses!

Dog doing parkour

Jumps and flips - Rumor has it that dogs are doing parkour now! Some dogs think furniture is just an indoor parkour course. Why not teach them to do some cool jumps and flips to take their parkour skills to the next level!  Just keep it outdoors to be safe.

Dog jumping for a stick in a man's hand

Talk using dog buttons – So seriously, who was the genius that came up with these dog buttons? Kudos to you, we say! If you can teach your dog to use the buttons properly and at the right times, you are a Rockstar! We don’t recommend a button for treats though.  It might end up in a permanently pressed position.

People standing with their dogs
What is the best way to use the clicker training method? It’s actually pretty easy and systematic. First, you need to prepare yourself and your tools to click and give treats in a quick rhythmic fashion.  The key is to click as the behavior is happening, not after.  For example, click right when your dog’s body reaches the floor to lie down, not after they lie down.  Right after you click, you can give your dog a treat, but it should be ‘right after’.  That means clicker in one hand, treat in the other. 
Dog watching clicker in a person's hand.The pattern that should emerge is behavior, click, treat on repeat.  Eventually start giving fewer and fewer treats. When you are confident your dog will respond to the command you are teaching them, you can put away the clicker. Mission accomplished!
Small brown dog


What are the downsides to clicker training? It takes time, patience, and practice.  Your dog won’t learn what you want it to learn after the first try. You need to be patient.  You also need to hone your own clicker methods so that you click and reward at the right time.  It can also be of limited use for dogs who either only do things for treats or toys or dogs that aren’t that interested in treats or toys. 
Two dogs staring up at a person.You should also be careful when using clickers with dogs that are anxious or sensitive to the clicking sound.  The noise may be too jarring or anxiety-provoking for them, making other training methods much more suitable.

So, if there are tricks you want to teach your dog and you think your dog is a good candidate for clicker training, go ahead and grab your pup, clicker and treats! They will be well on their way to becoming a happy, healthy, and well-mannered pup.

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