Clicker training can be the most rewarding way of training your dog to behave, however there is much more to understand about clicker training before you start.
In operant conditioning there are four things that affect your dog’s behavior. Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment and negative punishment.
Positive reinforcement is what happens when a behavior causes a good consequence, and is likely to be repeated. For example your dog sits when told to, and gets a treat. He will continue to sit when told because he knows that treat is coming!
Negative reinforcement is what happens when something your dog does causes something unpleasant to stop. By performing a certain behavior, the dog can make a bad thing stop happening. These actions are likely to be repeated because they cause something bad to go away.
For example, you ask your dog to sit and he does not. So you pull up on his choke chain until he sits, then release the pressure. He sat to cause the unpleasant tightness around his neck to stop.
Positive punishment is the scientific term for something bad happening to your dog when a behavior frowned upon is performed. For example, your dog barks at passer-by and gets sprayed with water. All of these actions create bad results and are less likely to be repeated.
Negative punishment is best described by taking away something good when a bad behavior is performed. For example, your dog is outside enjoying the sunshine but he decides to dig a hole. You notice, and bring him inside.
Although confusing at first, if you succeed in understanding these four definitions fully, and remember to use them when training your dog, you will be successful.
You can begin training your dog or puppy as early as eight weeks. Although puppies at this age have a very short attention span and can’t learn a lot in one session, it is still better to start as early as possible.
You will need six very important things to start clicker training.
The most important is time. Plan to spend at least fifteen minutes with your puppy twice a day working on commands. As your dog gets older and his attention span increases you can increase the time of your training sessions.
You will also need space. Find an area free of all distractions where your dog can focus on you and you alone. Eventually you will add distractions gradually until the dog is comfortable in a busy street.
You will need a collar and a leash. I recommend a choke chain for all training but you could also use a leather or nylon flat collar. Make sure your lead is comfortable as you will eventually be working with it attached to your hand for more than an hour a day. It will also be used for walks. I recommend leather no more than six feet in length and no less than four feet.
Of course you will need a clicker! This is a small, most often plastic, little box with a small piece of metal inside that when pushed makes a ‘click’ or ‘pop’ sound. They come in many different colors and are very inexpensive to buy.
Finally, you will need patience! Dog training doesn’t happen overnight. Your dog wants nothing more than to please you, but it takes time for him to learn just what that is. Behaviors that are acceptable and normal to a dog might not be the same behaviors that are acceptable to people.
Start with basic commands like sit, down, heel and stay. Most puppies can learn these by three to four months of age. From here, work towards heel, making sure you are teaching your dog to sit when you stop and to slow down and speed up as you do. If you start early this isn’t as hard as it sounds. From here you can go on to intermediate and advanced obedience which includes off leash exercises as well as field work.
Back to: Dog Training