Why is timing important in clicker training?

The biggest advantage of clicker training is that it makes everything ultra clear to the dog. She’ll always know exactly what’s expected of her and will soon discover what behaviors bring rewards and what behaviors don’t.

It is essential for the owner or trainer to employ precision in the timing of both the click and the reward (which is usually food). Here’s why:

Say you’re trying to teach your dog to turn a light switch off or on. You got her as far as standing on her hind legs—but you click too early, before she’s actually had a chance to touch the switch. So, she’ll end up thinking the desired behavior is actually just the stand or the jump—not the actual touching of the switch.

Alternatively, sometimes you’ll click too late. Using the example of teaching your dog the sit command—when it’s time to get up, we usually say something like “okay!” But if your click is too late, and she’s popping up out of the sit or lifting her paw or turning her head and you click—she’ll think that’s the command.

Timing of the food is also critical. The food, or treat, is the reward you give your pet after the click—and that treat should come within a second or two of the click. If you click and treat at the same time, it gets associated in the dog’s mind as the same thing and you won’t get the kind of success you’re seeking.

On the other hand, you must always treat. One of the misconceptions, says Professional Certified Dog Trainer Viviane Arzoumanian, is that eventually the clicker can be used on its own during the dog training. “But this is a contract with the dog,” says Arzoumanian, “because in the dog’s mind, click=treat. If you don’t deliver the treat, the clicker will lose its power and value as a training tool.

Concerned that the food rewards will make your dog overweight? If your dog likes them, you can use mini baby carrots, string beans, apple slices (fruit only—the seeds are toxic). For a complete list, see our post on “Healthy Table Foods.”

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