“Clicker Training” is a term for training a dog, or even a cat, with the use of a clicker device. This type of training is technically referred to as “Operant Conditioning.” In operant conditioning, your pet learns to associate a behavior or action with a consequence. An animal will tend to repeat an action which results in a reward or positive consequence. For the training to be effective, the positive reinforcement must occur immediately as the desired behavior occurs.
Since it is not always possible to give an immediate reward, a clicker can be used to “mark” the behavior. The clicker is simply a small, handheld noisemaker which makes a distinctive sound, and allows your pet to identify the behavior you are rewarding.
Your first step is to teach your pet to associate the clicker sound with the reward; most pets respond best to food rewards such as small tasty treats. Simply click the clicker, and give the reward. This is termed as “loading” the clicker. Never click the clicker without giving a reward. Once your pet associates the click with a reward, you can begin using the clicker to mark the behavior you wish to train.
Your next step is to identify the behavior you wish to teach to your dog or cat. Once you catch your pet doing the correct behavior, immediately click and then offer the treat reward. For example, if you want to teach your dog to sit, you can simply wait until he performs this behavior, then click and reward.
Your final step is to add a verbal cue to the desired behavior. This just means associating a word with the behavior. If you are training your dog to sit, simply say the word “Sit” when the dog performs the behavior.
If your pet does something wrong, simply ignore the behavior – do not punish him. Keep your training sessions short (5 or 10 minutes at a time), since most pets have short attention spans. Clicker training can be a fun and rewarding way to spend time with your pet.