Clicker Rules: Guest Writer Jane Young

Curious how to use a clicker to train your pet? You might want to check out our previous article about the clicker, What exactly is the clicker, anyway? The article you’re currently reading is the next step: rules to follow that will help you succeed with the clicker.

At the most basic level, clicker training is very simple. When you see your pet doing something you like, click! And when you click, always give a treat. (Even if you clicked for something you didn’t mean to – more on that in a moment!) If you follow just that – click for what you like, give a treat for every click – you’re already in business. However, there are a few more rules that will help you and your pet benefit from the full power of the clicker as a training tool.

We’ve invited back our guest writer Jane Young, author of Dog Training Teaching: Surviving a Puppy Without Losing Your Mind, to share an excerpt from her book about this very topic. 

Adoptable cat Simon has been reading this book while waiting for someone to adopt him. He highly recommends the section on self-control for your pup.

Jane Young, Dog Training Teaching: Surviving a Puppy Without Losing Your Mind, “Chapter 2: It’s Not a Remote Control (Clicker Basics),” page 28:

As with any piece of effective equipment, a clicker comes with rules.

Rule number one: a clicker is not a remote control. TV fans like to hold the clicker at arm’s length and point it at the dog as if changing his channel. Please don’t point at the pup as you click. Why not? Well, it’s rude, but that isn’t actually the real reason. Dogs watch better than they listen. We have zillions of visual indicators for our routines, and dogs know each and every one. If you flail the clicker around when you are clicking, the flailing becomes the marker, not the sound of the click.

Rule number two: you don’t want to hide the clicker behind your back. Why? Hide a clicker behind your back, and the puppy will be concentrating on what you are hiding, not what you are teaching. Simply hold the clicker in your hand with your arm casually at your side. We want the dog listening for the click, not looking for the clicker.

Rule number three: every time you click you must give a cookie. Think of click and cookie as one event. A click is a promise for a food reward. Never break a promise to your puppy. You can only do that once, and your puppy won’t believe you the next time. What if your click by accident? You got it: you give a cookie. If you click, you give a cookie, every time, no matter what.

Rule number four: click one time and one time only when the puppy does what you want. Remember, the click is just data. One click is all that is needed. If you want to jackpot your dog, you certainly can, but do it with multiple cookies delivered one at a time, not with multiple clicks.

Rule number five: don’t have a cookie in one hand and a clicker in the other. A visible cookie is too distracting for the puppy to be able to pay attention to you. All he can think about is the cookie. Click and then move your hand into the pocket or cookie bowl on the counter. The cookie is a reward and shouldn’t be indicated until after the click is complete, unless you are luring (more on the technique of luring in another article).

Rule number six: always have your thumb on the proverbial trigger when working with a clicker. If your thumb isn’t resting on the clicker, ready to click, every click will be late.

Rule number seven: don’t hold the clicker down when you click. Let it rebound as quickly as possible. The rebound makes another click. If you keep the clicker depressed, that rebound click will be separated from the first click and the puppy could, and probably will, move so you will be marking a second behavior with the rebound.

Now that you’ve read this general information about clicker training, you’re prepared for our next articles, which will help you apply it in specific ways to help your animal at home. If you’re eager to read more and just can’t wait for our next article, don’t forget that these excerpts from Jane Young’s book are just that – excerpts. You can find Dog Training Teaching: Surviving a Puppy Without Losing Your Mind on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.