Dog Clicker Training: How it Works!

Dog Clicker Training How it Works!

For the most part, almost everyone has heard of clicker and dog clicker training. People recognize them, know the little clicking noise, and associate them with dogs and dog training. But very few dog training clients have actually been able to tell me how to use a clicker. Correctly, that is. 

Perhaps my favorite clicker anecdote involves Will Ferrell. He was on some late show or another and brought a bunch of rescue dogs looking for homes with the promise of an impressive performance to be had. 

That performance consisted of Ferrell running around with a clicker chasing the dogs while they frolicked about the stage without any type of purpose, clicking continuously along the way. That’s about what most people anticipate a clicker is used for.

Chris Pratt showed off a similar performance with a trio of Velociraptors and a clicker as well. But I’ve had yet to see Hollywood pull off a performance with an accurate representation on using a clicker. So let’s get the details straight, and learn how a clicker actually works.

What Does a Clicker Do?

Yes, yes… we know a clicker “clicks,” but what exactly is that click supposed to be doing? When you are a clicker training a dog, the click is used as a signal to let your dog know when they’ve done the correct thing and food is on the way. 

It’s also known as a “bridge” in the animal training world. It helps you communicate with your dog more clearly.

Why Use a Clicker?

Personally, I don’t use a clicker for my regular training and don’t recommend the use of it to my clients either. I prefer having my training clients use a verbal bridge rather than a clicker because they won’t have a clicker on them at all times. 

However, clickers do have their upsides! They are great for a more precise form of communication. They always sound the same, and once you get the hang of them you can be pretty accurate with your timing. This can help a dog learn more quickly!

Whether you use a clicker or a verbal bridge (such as the word “OK”) the bridge is used to let a dog know when they’ve done the correct thing, regardless of if food is coming their way or not. It helps you make sure that your dog knows when they’ve done the correct behavior so that they keep listening and responding to you.

How to Use a Clicker?

No, I’m not walking you through how to push the button on a clicker to make it click. When I say “how” to use a clicker, I mean how to teach your dog what the clicker means. Because a dog doesn’t just instinctively understand that the click means they’ve done the correct behavior.

You have to start by pairing it with reinforcement! Food is the easiest kind. First, you’ll have to choose a reinforcer that your dog actually likes. If your dog isn’t motivated by the treats you are using, make sure that the treats you have are not stale and have protein as the first ingredient.

Many dogs also prefer moist or chewy treats rather than dry biscuit-style treats. Once you’ve got a good reinforcer, you’ll want to start pairing it with your bridge, in this case, the clicker. You could hypothetically simply click and then give your dog a treat, and repeat that a few times.

However, I prefer just jumping right into using it as intended. Your dog will make the connection quickly. When you are using a clicker, this is the general process of what the correct technique is.

You simply ask your dog for a behavior, wait until they do the behavior, click right at the second the dog does the behavior, and then you reach for and provide your reinforcement. So let’s use sit as an example because it’s simple and most dogs probably know it already.

Holding your clicker ready, with your food easily accessible but not in your hands, you would ask your dog to “sit,” wait until they do so, and the second their hind-end hits the ground you would click and then reach for your reinforcement

What it Won't Do

A clicker isn’t some magical device that will somehow teach your dog new things. It is simply a method to communicate with your dog more clearly. As we discussed previously, you can use a clicker as your bridge, but you can also simply use a word as well, which we refer to the technique of using only a clicker as your bridge.

When it comes to dog training, most of the failures in behavior stem from some type of miscommunication. A dog’s recall begins breaking down because the owner slowly phases out treats and fails to continue clearly letting their dog know that when they come when called they have done the correct behavior.

They might gradually only go into a “down” position when you ask for sit because you stopped reinforcing for sit while teaching them down. There is a number of reasons why a dog’s behavior might decline, but almost always miscommunication can be found as at least one of the symptoms behind the degradation.

Using clear signals is the best way to ensure that you are doing everything you can to maintain your dog’s behavior. Now, that doesn’t mean that a clicker is going to solve all of your training problems because you are communicating better, but it can help make the process easier.

If you are struggling with the training process, or you are trying to work on stopping an unwanted behavior such as barking, take a look at our training programs to see what types of resources might be best for you.

In addition to our barking-focused course (The Ultimate Barking Solution), we also provide the option of personalized assistance using our Ask The Trainer program.

Don’t forget that if you have any questions about what might be the best option for you or your pup, you can always contact us.


"The Truth About Well-Behaved Dogs"

Discover the never-before-revealed FACTS and training secrets in this ground-breaking video series: fix problem behaviors, stop barking, housetraining

Leave a Comment


The Truth About
Well-Behaved Dogs