What exactly is the clicker, anyway? Guest Writer: Jane Young

Nikki and Juno on the day they were adopted by their favorite human, SPCA staff member Shelby.

Did you just bring home a new dog from the SPCA for your two week foster-to-adopt period? Looking for some resources to help your (hopeful!) new family member settle in successfully? This article is the first in our ongoing series to help you through this process. We know adopting a new dog can be overwhelming at first, and we hope that providing you with these online resources will help you find answers to your questions easily from home.

Please keep in mind that if you can’t find an answer here on the 4-Paw Post (or if the situation you’re concerned about seems more severe than these resources are geared toward), you can always call us and ask for help! Shelter staff will be glad to offer experienced problem-solving and suggestions, and we can also refer you to trainers we trust.

Speaking of which, it’s time to introduce our very first Guest Writer on the 4-Paw Post, Jane Young of Foxfield Dog Training! Jane helps us out with the shelter dogs, and has agreed to share excerpts from her book, Dog Training Teaching: Surviving a Puppy Without Losing Your Mind.

Metro supports this book – anything that helps those dogs be better behaved!

Today we’re talking about clicker training. We’d like to introduce this incredibly powerful, yet simple, concept to you so that you have it in your toolbox. There are countless ways a clicker can help you help your dog – at any age, and regardless of their background/history/prior traumas. Let’s start at the beginning – what is a clicker, and why would you want to use it?

A standard box-style clicker, with example of how it is held in the hand.

Jane Young, Dog Training Teaching: Surviving a Puppy Without Losing Your Mind, “Chapter 2: It’s not a Remote Control (Clicker Basics)” page 26:

What exactly is the clicker? A clicker is nothing more than a little plastic box that makes a clicking sound when it is pressed. This sound is used to tell the puppy he is correct and he will be paid with a cookie for what he was doing when he heard the click. The click, in and of itself, is not a reward, but the cookie is. In other words, the click is a promise for a cookie.

Dogs learn to work for your click. If you go to a puppy class, you can use your clicker there even if others are using a clicker with their puppies. YOUR click is the only one that matters to your puppy.

Why Use a Clicker?

There are many reasons to use a clicker. First and foremost, a click is a click is a click. Everyone sounds the same when they click. Therefore, whoever clicks is a teacher to your puppy. A clicker is an equalizer in the family, making “Mom” equal to “Dad” and making the kids equal to the adults.

Clickers aren’t charged with emotion. They don’t have bad days, they don’t fight with their wives, they don’t get yelled at by their bosses. If you click your dog when you are in a bad mood, the click sounds the way it always does so there is no sad voice. A click is a click. No mixed message.

The next reason to use a clicker is it’s fast, just like a puppy. Picture a puppy racing around, changing position and location so fast that you start to think you have more than one puppy! A clicker is the fastest way to catch and mark a behavior, telling a puppy when he’s right. We will teach your puppy it was what he was doing when he heard the magic click which bought him the cookie. No guesswork involved.

Next let’s look at proximity to your student. You have to be right next to a puppy to deliver a cookie or a stroke of affection. A click, however, can be delivered from a distance. You can click the desired behavior from several yards away and chuck a cookie to the pup.

Sound interesting yet? There’s more to come! Our next article will talk about the basics of how to use the clicker. Fear not – even if you’ve never heard of clicker training before, you can learn how to do it. Our articles here will provide simple ways to get started, with practical skills you want your newly adopted dog to develop. If you’d like to read more, remember that these excerpts from Jane Young’s book are just that – excerpts. If you’re looking for more detail and more useful behaviors to teach your dog, consider reading the whole book! It’s available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.