Have you ever considered using a clicker to train your dog?
It comes in handy when training new behaviours. You “click” to mark the very moment your dog correctly performs the task. It’s a quicker, more consistent way to say, “yes, good dog!”
Even people who regularly use a clicker do not use it all of the time. It’s typically only used during the first few training sessions in conjunction with praise and food rewards. Once your dog understands a new cue, you don’t need to use a clicker to mark the behaviour.
You don’t actually need to use a clicker for any part of your training. Clickers are not required for Healthy Houndz training programs because we find that praise and rewards work just as well for the average dog owner, especially when teaching basic behaviours.
You may find that you can never find a clicker when you need one. They’re like left socks and hair ties. They magically disappear when you need them, and turn up when you don’t.
Holding a clicker can be cumbersome when you’re on a walk. When you’re already holding the leash, poop bags and treats, you’ll need a third hand to hold your clicker. Not to mention, clicker training requires consistency and impeccable timing, which can be difficult to accomplish when you have your hands full.
Marking Your Dog’s Behaviour
When training without a clicker, you still need to “mark” your dog’s correct behaviours with a consistent sound. This can be a verbal marker, like “yes!” spoken in a happy voice. The marker needs to be short, simple and easy to repeat. You can even click your tongue. If your dog is hearing impaired, you’ll need to use a visual marker instead, like a light or a hand signal.
At first, the marker won’t mean anything to your dog. It needs to be immediately followed by a bite-size food reward. Start by saying the marker word, then immediately giving your dog a treat. Then, practice with a simple cue that your dog already knows, like “sit”. The instant their butt hits the ground, say, “Yes!” then give them a treat.
Pretty soon, your dog will associate the marker with a reward, so they’ll understand that it indicates that they have done something right.
The sound of a clicker or verbal marker is known as a secondary reinforcer. It is, in itself, an exciting sound for your dog because it means that a treat is on the way.
Some people skip the marker altogether, and give the dog a treat as they perform the behaviour. The food reward can be a marker in itself because food is a primary reinforcer. It’s tasty and exciting, and your dog will naturally do whatever it takes to get more of it.
We like to use verbal markers paired with treats. To your dog, verbal praise can be as wonderful as a treat, and your positive tone will encourage them to keep learning. You don’t always have to train with treats; you can also pair your verbal marker with a reward like a toy, or the privilege of going outside.
Do Verbal Markers Work As Well As Clickers?
A 2016 study found that dogs were able to learn a new behaviour just as easily whether they were trained with a clicker, a marker word, or treats only.
Dogs are fantastically resilient learners.They can learn new behaviours even when our timing isn’t perfect, when we make mistakes, and when we forget to train on a regular schedule.
What You DO Need To Help Your Dog Learn
Dog training isn’t really about tools, tech and equipment. It’s about communication.
Your cues should be clear and easy for your dog to understand. Dogs seem to understand hand signals better than cue words. You can teach both at the same time. For example, the universal hand signal for “sit” is to raise your palm upwards, arm bent at the elbow. You can say “sit” while you use the gesture to make sure your dog knows exactly what you want them to do.
It’s vitally important that you communicate with your dog when they’re paying attention to you, rather than repeating cues over and over. It helps to teach “watch me” to get your dog’s attention before you ask for a behaviour.
Working with a professional dog trainer will accelerate your training by leaps and bounds. In-person lessons with an expert are the best way to learn to read the dog in front of you.
Get in touch to find out how you can work with Healthy Houndz to teach your dog anything – from potty training basics to the skills they need for competitions and dog sports.