A clicker helps you zero in on exactly what earns your dog their reward. Your dog sits, you click the second their butt touches the ground, and they know exactly what behavior you’re looking for. It’s also called a marker or a bridge, because it marks the behavior that you are rewarding, and you’re bridging the time between the behavior and reward. You may hear trainers say “click” or “mark” when clicker training. The reason is because you can still clicker train, even without a clicker and “marking” is just a more general term. However, the clicker is one of the most common tools for the job and they’re widely available, so many trainers choose them.
You can still use the basic training principles of clicker training without a clicker. There isn’t anything inherently magical about it- all it does is make a sound. For example, trainers working with a dog who can’t hear very well may use a blinking flashlight to mark the behavior. Another very common example is a verbal marker, which can be a great option in many situations. Maybe you’re on a walk and the leash, treats, and clicker are just too much to juggle, or you see a great training opportunity but just don’t have your clicker on you. No worries! Just pick a word that you can use the exact same way as a clicker- say it when your dog does exactly what you want to train. Short, single words tend to work best. I like “yes!”
Here’s some more information for using a clicker:
-You don’t need to use it forever! Clickers work best for teaching new behaviors. Once your dog has a pretty good grasp on what they’re doing, they’ll still keep up the good work as long as they get rewarded every once in a while.
-The clicker has only one job- it tells your dog “Good job, a treat is on its way.” You don’t want to use it just to get their attention or to distract them from anything else. Also, you only need to click once to mark a behavior.
-Every click or marker should be followed by a treat, even if you didn’t mean to click or clicked the wrong behavior. Clicker training is very forgiving, and your dog won’t mind a free bonus treat. The clicker will be a more powerful training tool for you if your dog knows with 100% certainty that they’re about to earn a treat after every click or marker.
-Before starting your first session with a clicker, you’ll want to “charge” it. That just means clicking and treating without looking for any specific behavior, about 5-10 times. Your dog will love this part. This helps them associate the click and reward, so when they hear it in a real training session, they already know that it’s a good thing. You can do the same thing with a verbal or any other marker- just give them the marker and follow up with a treat.
-Treats do not need to be huge. Clicker training sessions usually have a high number of treats, so they can be tiny. About the size of a pea is usually good. It just needs to be enough to make your dog feel good about receiving it. The quality of the treat is much more important- most dogs would work much harder for a piece of ham than a piece of kibble out of their bowl. Soft, small, and smelly are good qualities in a training treat. However, your dog ultimately decides what their favorite treat is, so try a few out and see what works best for you.
"We are reinforcing good behaviors with a positive method and it works for a much better bond."
-Becky Rene, Sniffy Trainer