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Clicker Training for Dogs

Clicker training, a method rooted in positive reinforcement, offers a clear, effective and humane way to train dogs. This technique not only enhances communication between dogs and their families, but also fosters a stronger bond built on trust and mutual understanding.

Whether you're a new dog parent or looking to improve your training methods, clicker training can transform your dog's behaviour and your relationship with them.

What is Clicker Training?

Clicker training is a positive reinforcement method used to teach and reinforce desired behaviours in dogs. It involves using a small mechanical device, known as a clicker, which makes a distinct clicking sound when pressed. This sound serves as a marker that signals to the dog that they have performed the correct behaviour and that a reward, typically a treat, is forthcoming.

History of Clicker Training

The origins of clicker training can be traced back to the 1940s when marine mammal trainers began using it to train dolphins and whales. The method was later adapted for use with dogs and other animals. One of the pioneers of clicker training for dogs was Karen Pryor, whose book "Don’t Shoot the Dog!" played a significant role in popularising this training technique.

How Does It Work?

The basic principles of clicker training revolve around the use of the clicker to mark desired behaviours. When a dog performs a behaviour that the trainer wants to reinforce, such as sitting or staying, the trainer immediately clicks the clicker and then provides a treat. The click sound acts as a precise and consistent marker, indicating to the dog exactly which behaviour earned the reward. Over time, the dog learns to associate the click with positive outcomes, making them more likely to repeat the behaviour in the future. This method relies on clear communication, consistency and positive reinforcement to effectively teach and shape a wide range of behaviours and commands.

Basic Steps to Clicker Train Your Dog

Charging the Clicker

The first step in clicker training is to introduce your dog to the clicker, a process known as "charging the clicker." Begin by pressing the clicker and immediately giving your dog a treat. Repeat this several times in short sessions over a few days. The goal is for your dog to associate the sound of the clicker with a reward. Once your dog perks up at the sound of the clicker, you know they understand that a click means a treat is coming.

Marking Behaviours 

Now that your dog understands the association between the clicker and treats, you can begin to use the clicker to mark desired behaviours. When your dog performs a behaviour you want to reinforce, such as sitting, immediately click the clicker at the exact moment they complete the action. This click serves as a precise marker, telling your dog that they did the right thing.


After clicking to mark the behaviour, immediately follow up with a reward. The reward should be something your dog finds highly motivating, such as a favourite treat or toy. The timing is crucial—ensure the reward is given right after the click to strengthen the association between the behaviour and the positive outcome.

Shaping Behaviours

Shaping involves gradually guiding your dog towards the desired behaviour by rewarding successive approximations of that behaviour. For instance, if you want to teach your dog to lie down, you might start by clicking and rewarding any behaviour that moves them closer to lying down, such as bending their elbows. As your dog starts to understand what you’re looking for, you can raise the criteria, only clicking and rewarding behaviours that are closer to the full action of lying down.


Regular practice is essential to reinforce learned behaviours and teach new ones. Keep training sessions short and fun, typically around 5-10 minutes, to maintain your dog’s interest and focus. Gradually increase the difficulty of the behaviours you’re teaching, and always end on a positive note with a successful attempt and a reward. Consistent practice helps solidify the behaviours and ensures your dog retains what they've learned.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Inconsistent Timing

One of the most common mistakes in clicker training is inconsistent timing. If you click too early or too late, your dog may become confused about which behaviour is being reinforced. To improve your timing, focus on clicking at the exact moment your dog performs the desired behaviour. Practice observing your dog’s actions closely and be ready to click immediately. If you find it challenging to get the timing right, try practicing without your dog first—use a ball or another object to simulate the behaviour and practice clicking at the right moment.

Over-Reliance on Treats

While treats are a powerful motivator in clicker training, over-reliance on them can be problematic. If your dog only performs behaviours when they see a treat, they may not learn to respond reliably in all situations. To avoid this, gradually wean your dog off treats by introducing a variable reward schedule. Start by clicking and treating every time your dog performs the behaviour, then slowly reduce the frequency of treats while still using the clicker to mark the behaviour. You can also incorporate other rewards, such as praise, petting or playtime, to keep your dog motivated.

Clicker Fatigue

Clicker fatigue occurs when your dog becomes less responsive to the clicker due to overuse or prolonged training sessions. To prevent this, keep training sessions short and engaging, typically around 5-10 minutes. Vary the activities and behaviours you’re working on to maintain your dog’s interest. If you notice your dog losing enthusiasm or becoming distracted, take a break and resume training later. Always end sessions on a positive note, with a successful behaviour and a reward, to keep your dog excited about training.

By being mindful of these common mistakes and implementing strategies to avoid them, you can ensure a more effective and enjoyable clicker training experience for both you and your dog.

In summary, clicker training is a powerful, positive reinforcement method that enhances communication between you and your dog, strengthens your bond and effectively teaches a wide range of behaviours. By understanding the principles of clicker training, getting started with the basics and avoiding common mistakes, you can transform your dog's behaviour and create a more enjoyable training experience.


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