A clicker is a tool that makes a sound that is likely unfamiliar to your pet. There are many different kinds of clickers but the most common are box and button clickers. This sound initially means nothing to your pet until you create an association between the sound and a primary reinforcer (FOOD!).
Clickers are generally used as a sound that marks a behavior and is followed up with a reinforcer. Basically, it tells the animal what they did that was “right” and earned them a treat. Example: Dog sits, person clicks, and then gives them the treats. In this example the clicker marked the behavior of the dog sitting and indicated to the animal that a treat was coming for performing that behavior. The click also acts as a bridge between the behavior (sit) and the reinforcer (treat). It tells the animal, “Hold on, that was the right thing to do, a treat is on the way!”.
The first step is to program the clicker by associating the sound of the click with a treat. To do this you’ll start by clicking the clicker and then giving your dog a treat. During programming, your animal doesn’t need to be performing any specific behavior, you are just creating the association of click = treat. You’ll want to repeat this click, treat sequence a minimum of 10 times to make sure your animal creates that association. A good indicator of whether or not you have sufficiently programmed the clicker is when you click and your dog’s ears perk up at the sound.
You can use the clicker to mark and reinforce any behavior that you like whether it’s sitting when you ask them to, making eye contact with you when on walks, or choosing to lay down and relax. The beautiful thing about clicker training is that there are infinite ways to use it and as long as you always follow up the click with a treat, you’ll never be using it “wrong”.
In cats, we use the clicker to mark and reinforce everything from jumping up onto a perch to showing social behaviors with humans. The same can be said for any species. There are training programs that use clickers to help chickens learn to identify various colors or to walk through an agility course. In zoos, they use them to teach tigers and other large animals to voluntarily give blood.
My pet is afraid of the sound, what do I do?
Different clickers have different volumes so it may be as easy getting a different, quieter clicker. The teardrop-shaped clickers tend to be the quietest. If the click is still too loud you can try covering the clicker with your hand when you click. If that’s still too loud, you can cover the clicker with a sock (or several depending on how sensitive your pet is) to mute it even further.
Should I click multiple times so the animal hears me?
Nope! You should always do a one-click to treat ratio. The click must ALWAYS be followed up with a treat otherwise you dilute the power of the click sound.
What if I accidentally click at the wrong time?
That’s ok! You’ll still give your pet a treat since we always want the click sound to be associated with a treat. Just try to be better with your timing next time!
For any training or behavior-related questions please reach out to the Brandywine Valley SPCA’s Behavior Department via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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