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Clicker Dog Training

What's With All This Fuss About Clicker Dog Training?

Quite simply clicker dog training is the most humane and effective way we know how to shape any new behavior in our dogs and extinguish any existing behavior problems.

Clicker dog training utilizes proven behavioral science methodology to clearly communicate and interact with our dogs. We now have a greater understanding of how animals (including our dogs!) think and learn - clicker training is the practical application of this knowledge in real life everyday situations.

Clicker dog training is a positive, reward based training method which relies on co-operation, consistency, repetition and positive reinforcement. Clicker training is free from any violence or harsh corrections. The best thing about clicker training are the results you and your dog will achieve - plus you'll have a heap of fun in the process.

A Really Quick Overview Of Clicker Training For Dogs


The clicker training methods we now use on our dogs were first employed in the 60's to train marine mammal's (dolphins). These methods were then brought across into the dog training arena thanks to Karen Pryor, and really started to take off in the early 90's. The clicker training movement in the dog world has been picking up steam ever since and is now an unstoppable force - and for good reason...

clicker training for dogs

What Is The Clicker?

The clicker is a plastic toy like device with a metal strip that makes a quick, clear, consistent and distinctive sound when pressed. For our purpose it serves to accurately "mark" the behavior that we are shaping in our dogs and provides them with precise feedback - it does not have magical powers.

Choke Chains, Prong Collars and Harsh Corrections
are not the tools of a clicker trainer.

Yeah, but what exactly is Clicker Dog Training?

Tell me Chris, "How does this clicker training work and can you honestly tell me that a little plastic clicker will train my dog?"

Well no, the clicker doesn't actually train your dog - but it is an important tool in the clicker training process. Clicker training relies on our understanding of how dogs learn, dog psychology and the behavioral science principles of operant conditioning and classical conditioning. We know that when we combine these principles it is our best means of communicating with our dogs.

At the core of the clicker dog training principle is this proven belief - reinforced or rewarded behavior in a dog is more likely to be repeated, and behaviors that are not reinforced will become less likely to occur again.

This is how Karen Pryor puts it:

"In traditional training, animals learn what to do and what to avoid around people from the reactions of people. It's the same way animals learn what to do around other animals in the wild, from the reactions of other animals.

In OUR kind of training, animals learn how to find food, increase their skills, and discover new ways to have fun the same way they learn in nature-from exploring the world itself."

These are the brilliant communication tools of a Clicker Trainer:

Operant Conditioning:

Basically this takes advantage of the fact that dogs learn by the immediate consequence of their actions. What this means is that if we provide and control these consequences we will in fact be controlling our dog's behavior. I hear you ask "how do we control the consequences of our dog's behavior?" We do it by giving them instant feedback. This feedback or consequence can take the form of the following five outcomes:

  1. Positive Reinforcement - we add something to strengthen or increase the occurrence of a behavior.

  2. Negative Reinforcement - we take something away to strengthen or increase the occurrence of a behavior.

  3. Positive Punishment - we add something to weaken or decrease the occurrence of a behavior.

  4. Negative Punishment - we take something away to weaken or decrease the occurrence of a behavior.

  5. Extinction - we no longer reinforce a behavior so it goes away.


What does all of this mean? Depending on which of these 5 consequences we provide, we are making the behavior occur more often or making it fade away.

A couple of quick real life examples of a dog learning through the consequences of their behavior (operant conditioning).

  1. If you throw a tasty liver treat to your dog every time he sits down I'm tipping you will have a dog who spends a lot of time on his butt! By rewarding or reinforcing the sitting behavior you are ensuring that it will become more common.

  2. The same principle applies in this scenario. If you have a dog who likes to jump up on you and you respond by giving him a cuddle or a nice scratch behind the ear each time he does it, you are rewarding and therefore strengthening this behavior. Why wouldn't your dog jump up on you again? He'd be mad not to.

Classical Conditioning:

When we combine the effectiveness of operant conditioning with the power of classical conditioning clicker dog training is the brilliant result.

Classical conditioning is the pairing of two unrelated stimuli so that an association is formed between the two.

Think of it from your dog's perspective. When you put your jacket on your dog gets all excited because she associates this with going for walkies! In your dog's mind two unrelated things have become linked. In clicker dog training the sound of the clicker becomes associated with receiving a reward. When your dog hears the click she will expect a treat to come her way fast! - it is amazing how quickly dogs build this association between the "click" and a yummy treat.

NOTE: Don't worry if all this scientific theory sounds a bit confusing. The power and effectiveness of clicker training will become crystal clear as soon as you give it a go.

For a detailed explanation of Operant and Classical conditioning please visit this page Clicker Training Theory.

What all of this theory means is that a clicker trainers overwhelming focus is on marking and rewarding the desirable behavior of their dogs, rather than on the dogs undesirable behavior. Training sessions are motivational, full of praise and rewards and they are also free from any threat of violence or harsh punishment (unlike many other training methods). This clear emphasis on positive reinforcement gives dogs the freedom and confidence to think, learn and experiment throughout the training process. The dog's natural capabilities are encouraged and rewarded rather than being suppressed through the threat of violence or harsh corrections. From your dog's perspective they can solely concentrate on the challenge of learning and trying new things rather than worrying about the consequences of doing something wrong. Which scenario do you think is a better environment for a dog to learn and bond with their trainer?

The clicker itself is basically a construction tool used to build, shape and reinforce desired behavior. It's function is to clearly pinpoint the behavior we are looking for in our dogs (sit, down etc.) precisely when it takes place. It marks this event or behavior and provides instant positive feedback (which is what dogs need to learn!) to your dog. Clicker trained dogs quickly learn that the clicking sound is a good thing, that a reward is on its way and they strive to hear it's sweet sound. Some trainers call the clicker a "bridging stimulus" meaning that the click links up or connects the desired behavior to the reward (treat, praise etc.). The click also signifies to your dog that the behavior is finished, that their job is over.

Once you have the desired behavior (sit, down etc.) rock solid and reliable in all circumstances and situations you can gradually phase out the clicker and the reward for that behavior. Then you and your dog can move on to learning your next trick!

Clicker Training - Step-by-Step

Lets have a look at a clicker trainers step by step approach to shaping a new behavior: Always remember that dogs know how to do these tasks already we just need to clearly communicate to them what we want them to do - and make it worth their while to do so.

1. Get the desired behavior to happen - use a lure, target stick, shape it or let occur naturally.
2. Mark the behavior the instant it happens - "click"
3. Reward/Reinforce the behavior - use tasty treats, praise, life rewards etc.
4. Generalize the behavior - add the so called three D's. Practice the behavior everywhere adding new challenges like increased duration, distance and distractions.
5. Cue the behavior - add a verbal and/or visual signal such as "sit" or "down" etc.
6. Gradually fade the clicker and treats.

Quick Video Of A Clicker Trainer Shaping The "Sit" Behavior

Advantages Of Clicker Dog Training

  1. Builds a strong bond between handler and dog, based on co-operation and mutual respect.

  2. It's a positive, gentle, non violent and motivational training method.

  3. Is based on a proven scientific method that works.

  4. Is great for young puppies - it's never too early to begin your clicker training!

  5. Focuses on what is right rather than what is wrong, which builds confident dogs.

  6. Raises a thinking dog and one who is creative.

  7. It's a very forgiving method - just get out and try it!

  8. Dogs have a great attitude towards training and are stress free.

  9. Clicker dog training is fantastic for big heavy dogs. This is because you work in cooperation with your dog rather than by pushing, shoving or manhandling your dog. Hey, they use clickers to train Rhino's, so don't be fooled into thinking that it is not an effective technique for big dogs.

My Experience With Clicker Dog Training

I only started using clicker training with my dogs about three years ago. For a long time before that I resisted the change, even though plenty of people who I respected kept telling me to give clicker training a go. I was happy with the methods I knew well and had always used. The first time I used clicker dog training was because my mum asked me to train her new little Shih Tzu puppy called Macy. She wanted her trained using clicker training methods, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to experience first hand what all the fuss was about this clicker training.

It didn't take me long to realise that clicker training had a lot going for it. I soon found that dogs really love the clicker training process and most importantly I could see the results were quick and very impressive. It's been a refreshing and unexpected change to see the sheer delight and enthusiasm all dogs have show towards our clicker training sessions. Take Macy for example, she sits in front of me shaking, almost bursting with excitement when I produce the clicker. After she has thought her way through the session she is always exhausted - it takes a lot out of dogs mentally.

This is the clicker training resource I used when I first taught Macy - Clickertraining Academy

clicker dog training
"Macy" our Shih Tzu loves the clicker!

Where Do You Learn More About Clicker Dog Training?

Getting Started Clicker Training

My advice would be to just get out and try clicker training for yourself. It's the best way to really appreciate and see for yourself its many benefits and advantages. Then if you feel you would like to continue to further your knowledge and become a better clicker trainer, I'd suggest you read a good clicker training book or maybe watch a DVD or two. My main recommendation would be to just enjoy the process and do it because it works!

For further reading, online videos and clicker training supplies there is only one place to go. Karen Pryor is the leading authority on Clicker Training For Dogs and she has a great website -

Another excellent and highly recommended product to get your clicker training experience off to a great start:

This Is What You Can Achieve Through Clicker Training

Some Other Good Clicker Dog Training Articles:

The History Of Clicker Training by Karen Pryor

How To Stop Unwanted Barking

Puppy House Training The Clicker Way

Are You A Leader Or Just A Treat Dispenser?

Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.