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How to Use a Clicker to Train Your Dog or Cat

By Linda Cole

Clicker training has been rising in popularity over the last several years as a useful tool for dog training. Many professional dog trainers never leave home without their clicker and use it in conjunction with treats and positive reinforcement. It works well for training both dogs and cats, but there is a trick to using a clicker the right way to reinforce the behavior you want to teach. It's not hard, but it is all in the timing and knowing when to click.

Dog training doesn't require a lot of time, but it does require commitment. A puppy's training should begin the minute you bring him home. This way he grows up knowing what you expect from him, and he's not as likely to develop behavioral problems down the road. An older dog whose training was neglected when they were young and now has behavioral problems can still be taught appropriate behavior using positive reinforcement. A clicker enhances the reinforcement with a quicker response from the person doing the training.

When used correctly, clicker training can give your dog or cat a response at the exact moment they've accomplished the task you want them to learn. The time it takes to say “Good boy/girl” or any other praise is not at the exact same time of their compliance. Using a clicker gives the pet instant acknowledgment for the act they just performed, which allows them to learn quicker. Clicker training doesn't replace the need for praise and treats though. You still want to have plenty of CANIDAE Snap-Bits™ or Snap Biscuit® treats on hand for earned rewards. A treat should be given after each click so your pet associates the sound of the click with a reward – the treat. The advantage of clicker training is that it takes away the variations in our tone of voice which can confuse some pets. And it allows every member in a household to train a pet using a clicker, giving a pet a consistent marker for completing a task.

Using a clicker isn't difficult, but getting the timing right may take a little practice. The first thing you want to do is get your pet to learn what the clicker means and associate the sound with a treat. Always remember – click first and then give the treat. When your dog or cat hears the click, it should be at the exact moment they sit, shake hands, come or do any command you're teaching.

Start by calling your pet to you. Use the treat as an incentive to get their attention. When you have it, click and then give the treat. This teaches your pet that the sound of the clicker gets him a treat. When your pet looks at you every time you click, then you're ready to move on to the next step.

Take a treat and hold it in your hand close to your face. Most pets will focus on your hand where the treat is hidden. Stay patient and wait for them to look at you and not your hand. The exact moment they look at your face, click and treat. Do this until your pet automatically looks you in the eyes. Give an immediate click followed by a treat. Don't forget to give praise as well. Clicker training reinforces faster than verbal praise.

When your dog or cat understands what the click means, you're ready to move on to anything you want to teach them. Keep the training sessions fun and make sure you give your pet plenty of opportunities to succeed. In other words, if they appear frustrated or not really into the training session, give it a rest. Training sessions should be done when your pet is hungry, otherwise the treat may not be as interesting.

Knowing how to correctly use a clicker is an important tool you can use that will reinforce your pet's positive actions. He will learn to associate the sound of the click as a positive reaction from you. If you're interested in clicker training, you can find clickers in most pet stores and online. They aren't expensive and are small enough to carry in a pocket for quick access. It takes a little practice to get the timing down, but once you get the feel of the clicker, you will get faster results with your training.

After your dog has learned basic commands, you might be interested in getting him certified in the AKC Canine Good Citizen program. Julia Williams outlines the ten different tests your dog will need to pass before getting their certificate.

Read more articles by Linda Cole
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