Although it has been in existence for numerous years, clicker training, also known as, operant conditioning is viewed by many as an innovative way to work with dogs. Animal and behavior trainers, as well as, scientists and therapists have employed clicker training for centuries. It is based on the concept of placing a desired behavior with a positive outcome for an animal, but one, which is not inherently affiliated with the behavior itself. If you were also to click a clicker when you gave the treat that would become a positive as well. Over a period, the dog would come to equate the clicker with “good behavior” even if you did not also present a treat.
The clicker is a small plastic box shaped device that the trainer carries. The trainer presses and releases a metal strap, which makes a click sound. The dog then pairs this click sound with being a good dog. Using clickers is faster than using verbal commands since the dog is less likely to ignore the click sound, as it is much easier to hear in crowds and other loud environments.
Initially, clickers are paired with a treat since clicking alone does not equate to a treat to the dog. A great aspect of clicker training is that it is based on positive behavior and on the dog performing commands correctly.
Breaking commands down to the smallest steps is the key to effective clicker training. Reward the dog with a treat and a click when it accomplishes each step. If you wanted to train the dog to jump through a hoop, you could begin with allowing the dog to run beside you while in the heel position, for instance. You could then lay a stick in the path of where you would like your dog to jump. When the dog approaches the stick, you could command the dog by saying, “jump.” Thereafter, you would immediately, click, treat and praise the dog. You could gradually increase the distance of the stick from the ground and click each time the dog follows the jump command over the stick. Clickers are also beneficial in that thy provide reinforcement without having to stop treat giving.
Introduce the dog to the hoop on the ground once it understands the jump command. You could utilize the hoop command to get the dog to walk through the hoop while it is on the ground. You would then click, treat and praise the dog once it has accomplished the hoop command. After successful completion of the hoop command, the dog could then be trained to perform the jump and hoop commands together. This would be done while the hoop is elevated from the ground a few inches. Each time that the dog steps up and through the hoop, it would receive a click, treat and praise. Repeat the process until the dog has fully learned how to step up and through the hoop, while you continue to click, treat and praise the dog.