What is a clicker?

The clicker is simply a little toy-like device that is used in the beginning stages of clicker (operant) training. It provides clear and precise communication between owner and dog and allows you both to concentrate on, and enjoy, the task at hand. You click at the exact moment the dog is performing whatever it is you want, and since you always follow that click with a tasty treat, the dog will learn to love the sound. In fact, she’ll work to make that sound happen!

Generally, dogs love clicker training and it can be fun for the entire family.

The clicker is valuable, because its unique sound doesn’t get lost in the babble of words we are constantly throwing at our dogs. It is faster than just saying “Good dog!” and allows the trainer to mark with exact precision the behavior for which the dog is being reinforced—for instance, if you’re teaching the sit command, you’ll click when the butt actually hits the ground, not simply when her haunches are lowered.

Paired with something the animal finds very reinforcing, the clicker becomes a powerful tool for shaping behavior. “Just be sure the reward is something of great value to the dog,” says Certified Professional Dog Trainer Viviane Arzoumanian. “If you give the dog a treat that she really doesn’t care for, there won’t be much incentive for reinforcement.”

It’s important to note the clickers come in various decimal levels because, once in a while, you’ll come across a dog that is startled, or even frightened, by it. If that happens, you can always get one with a lower sound-or just use a verbal marker which is a quick, short word (usually “yes!”)

Some people wonder if they can just say “good dog!” and then reward them with a treat—no clicker. “You can,” says Arzoumanian, “but it’s much more powerful as a training tool when clicker and treat are used together. For one thing, the sound of the click lets the dog know EXACTLY what’s expected, and she’ll quickly learn what behaviors bring rewards and what don’t. It also establishes a bond and trust.”

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