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Clicker Conditioning

Clicker Conditioning

Clicker training can a great way to introduce communication to your puppy, many pups, especially those in the higher drive group can really go over threshold at the sound of your voice, making it impossible to communicate with them near impossible. The clicker which as a low emotional tone can be effective at marking desirable behaviours.

If you start with a puppy then you always have the option to stay with clicker training, move to verbal markers or combine the two.

There is a lot of information available on clicker training so I’m not going to go on too much about it, but instead cover a few drills we can do to get started.

Loading or Charging the Clicker…

This is a pretty important step if your to get any real clicker power in your training. One big mistake were going to avoid here is under rewarding the click.

To get started I want to have a few things at the ready: –

  • A clicker on wrist coil (wrist coil optional but helpful)
  • Treat pouch full of small but moist, tasty and high value treats
  • 1 x hungry dog with COLLAR and long line attached
  • Low distraction area that the dog is comfortable in.

Stage 1

Begin by, sliding the pouch section of your treat pouch all the way to your back, this removes it from your dogs vision and also gives you access with both hands.

Stand in the middle of your area and when your dog isn’t paying attention, click.

This should get your dog to turn around and when it does pull three treats out of your pouch and offer one, take a step backwards offer and another. Get the treats into your dog as fast as you can.

As the dog looks for another treat, look interested in something else, try to get your dog to disengage with you to go do something else.

As soon as the dogs disengages click. Dog turns around repeat feed feed feed.

Always be moving away from your dog after giving a treat, this engages your dog and gets your dog to follow.

You now will have a dog that thinks something cool is happening but isn’t sure what, you can run another repetition if you like or take a break now.

You want to leave your dog wondering what was special about what just happened, taking a  break now and having the dog pester you to get more treats is an ideal way to highlight that good things come after the click.

Stage 2

At this stage you might notice your using the clicker as an interrupter, you’re not marking anything really and this marking of various things helps the dog value only the clicker, not the behaviour. Repeat these same steps at least 50 times, I would usually do this over 2 – 3 days which indicates how many times I stop and start this.

I know I have good value of my click when I can hit the clicker out of the blue and it sends my dog into a burst of excitement predicting at least 3 very nice treats.

Stage 3

It is at this time that I want to move the clicker to a mark rather than an interrupter. I do this by layering it over a known behaviour, like the sit or READY perhaps. If I have a totally new puppy I would then lure the puppy towards something like a touch pad, platform or similar or even a hand touch.

When the puppy interacts with either of these I would click.

I believe the success comes from being able to capture the smallest piece of the behaviour and then building each layer of the behaviour.

There are many behaviours that really lend themselves to clicker training, I believe things that require some independence from the handler such as scent work etc can really be great when trained with the clicker.

So now we have a dog that has sat, we have clicked when the butt has hit the ground or we have captured a puppy touching a pad or similar.

We need to understand that in this program, the click ‘terminates” the exercise and lets us bridge to the reward. This means that the dog jumps out of the sit or the puppy leaves the pad.

This is essential as we need to develop a clear understanding that the moment in time that the click happens highlights the desirable behaviour that needs to be repeated.

Next it is time to move forward and actually teach something. One of the things I like to start with and that actually has value is the hand touch, it can have many great uses later on.

The hand touch is where the dog moves to contact my open hand with his nose.

This has many benefits including it can become a behavioural interrupter. This is a tool that can be used of your dog is heading toward something you don’t want him to do; you add a behavioural interrupter to redirect him to do something else that he knows and likes.

Stage 4

To start, you set up to do some training, so the same things apply as in session one. You click your dog, he looks at you, you treat him, all is well.

Next you open your right hand and hold it out to your far right, expose your palm to your dog. About 30 cm from your dog’s nose.

Most dogs think you’re holding out a treat given the nature of what we have been doing and move toward your hand, click the first step they take, reach around grab a treat and give it to your dog but not with the hand that the dog touched.

Repeat again and see if your dog takes a step toward your hand. Again click on the first move he made to complete the task.

Raising the Bar…

Now your dog is being marked (clicked) for taking a step toward your hand, but we need to raise the bar now and the criteria will change.

Your hand will go out, he will take a step and you will not click, he may stop, that’s ok, he may look at you, that’s ok too.

Don’t do anything, this lack of reward when it is expected builds pressure, this pressure causes the dog to experiment.

When your dogs takes another step move your hand toward your dogs nose and gently make contact with the dogs nose with your open palm, the instant contact occurs, click, grab a treat and treat your dog!

Repeat again, you’re looking for your dog to understand that it must touch your hand in order to get the click in order to get the treat!

When I have the dog actively moving toward my hand, I stop moving my hand, raising the bar again so the dog has to make the journey to touch my hand.

I end this session there and we will take this up again at next lesson!

Next lesson I start where I left off, hand goes out and I expect the dog to make the connection, sometimes with some dogs you need to back track a little but that’s ok too. In this session if I am happy with my dogs response, confidently touches my hand each time it is presented, I am going to put it on cue now.

This means I am going to add a command to cue this behaviour.

I don’t add the command in the first place as I don’t like to confuse things with verbals the dog doesn’t know, I don’t like to add commands to anything until I am happy with the dogs understanding.

So now its hand out, say the cue “touch” as the dog is already moving toward my hand.

Again repeat this a few times, your just adding a verbal now to a dog that already knows the movement.

If we have time in this exercise continue on if not, take it up next session. We want to start the next session by another test. The test is that we will be around our dog, but not indicate that we will be training, so sit with him for a while, take him for a walk even!

When he least expects it, and is not looking at you, say the cue “touch” if you have taught him well he will turn around looking for your hand! If he does put it out there, let him touch it and click him when he does! If he doesn’t, go back a step or two, there is no rush. In most dogs the light bulb goes off and they just fall into this work.

Hopefully by now you will be understanding the timing of the click, it marks the specific moment in time when you see the behaviour you want your dog to repeat.

I take this to a new level by raising the bar again, I will be walking along, and just give the cue “touch”, other times I will say the cue and put my hand out, when my dog goes to touch I will move my hand away quickly like a game, I want my dog to go after it, dive for it even, be ready to click when he makes contact.


Video your pup responding to the CLICKER. Not the food in your hand or you.

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