What’s in a click?
Well – nothing! Until you build the value into that noise, it means nothing to your dog.
How to build value in the click?
Before you can start to use a clicker, you have to introduce it to your dog. Here are the steps I like to use:
- Take the clicker and click it a bunch of times before you go get your dog. This gets your “clicks out”. So many people want to play with it when you first hand it to them that this is always the first thing I do with my students ☺ After this you should never, ever click without giving a reinforcer afterwards.
- Now, get your dog and a handful of treats. You can use his kibble if you want to (and if he likes it).
- Click without moving your hands at all. Then pick up a piece of kibble and give it to your dog. Repeat until you have used up your handful (maybe 20 times).
- Now, when you dog isn’t looking, try to click. If he looks toward you, he’s got it. If not, do step 3 again until he’s got it.
*Important Note – even though your dog is just learning what the click means, you can still reinforce unwanted behavior when clicking and treating in this exercise. It doesn’t matter much what your dog does during this exercise, as long as he isn’t jumping/barking/trying to steal food from your hand/etc. Only click if he is doing something you wouldn’t mind him doing again.*
NOW, what’s in a click?
Once you have introduced the clicker, here’s what it can mean:
- Marker or Bridge: “That is exactly correct!” The moment you click captures the behavior your are reinforcing.
- Positive Reinforcer: “Oh boy a treat (or other reinforcer) is ready for me!” Every. Single. Click. Should be followed by a treat or later another reinforcer. But it has to be a reinforcer, so start with treats. More on that in another blog.
- Cue or Discriminative Stimulus: “Better go get the treat!” The dog should orient toward the place where the treat comes from. This might be you, a spot on the ground near your dog, or maybe the treat comes to your dog so he shouldn’t move at all.
So, the click is a great communicator and in just that one little moment, your dog gets all of this information.
Why a click?
Some people are hesitant to use a clicker, after all it is one more thing to carry and try to hold onto with a dog’s leash, treats, poop bags, keys, etc.
But, the clicker is an excellent tool because:
- It is super fast. Your words are slow, but the click is quick. Just like your wiggly puppy. This makes timing the click much easier than timing a verbal bridge.
- It sounds like nothing else. It is only used in training. Verbal praise can often get overused in everyday interactions, but the click is saved for times when you definitely have a reinforcer available. This gets your dogs attention!
- It cuts through other noises quite well. In busy environments with noisy traffic, crowds, or barking dogs, the click is easy for your dog to notice.
- It helps the trainer (you) to pay attention to what you are trying to reinforce. Since it is such a pinpointed stimulus, you are likely paying more attention to try to get that click to happen at just the right moment.
Your backup clicker
A clicker is not magic. It is just a tool. There are places where it is the best tool and other times where there are better tools. And times where you forget to bring your tool!
Because of this, I always teach a verbal marker to use as a “backup clicker”. I use the word “yes!” and I say it in an enthusiastic, punctuated tone that is almost the same every time. Differently than my dog would hear me say “yes” when I am talking on the phone, chatting with my husband, or while telling him he is “suchagoodboy”.
Some people use the word “good”, “bravo”, or make a clicking noise with their tongue (this is what I do with the cat).
Whatever you choose for your backup clicker; teach your dog the meaning of this noise just like you did with your clicker. Then you will always be prepared if you need a different tool or leave your clicker behind.
So, go get your clicker (most pet shops have them), and start building value. Then teach your dog something new!