man training a dog

The Clicker

The Clicker is a worthwhile tool

I am asked on a daily basis what type of trainer am I. My instinctive reply is positive training but then when I think about most people now associate positive training with the clicker treat system.

I have never confessed to be a great fan of the clicker, although I have trained using it in the past on many occasions. The reason I say I am not a great fan is that this little piece of plastic has for some reason become the go to tool for many un-educated trainers. And there lies the problem, the clicker is merely a tool. And like many tools we use, they only work on a certain percentage of dogs.

The worth of the tool is only relevant to the knowledge of the user, you must know when and when not to use a tool. Just because it works for one dog does not mean it is going to work for another.

I have set myself a mission to check out whether the clicker is a worthwhile tool and answer some of the frequent questions asked about its application.

Why does clicker training work?

Well according to Clicker training the answer is;
“Clicker training uses a distinct and consistent signal to mark a desired behaviourin real time and then follows that signal with a motivating reward.Because animals understand precisely which action earned the click and their reward, they learn new behaviours quickly, easily, and enthusiastically”.

As much as I agree with this there is a couple of things here that I need to point out. The first being “consistent signal to mark a desired behaviour”. Being consistent is a human deficiency, as we are hardly ever consistent in what we do.

“Mark a desired behaviour in real time and then follows that signal with a motivating reward.” This marking a desired behaviour must be so precise, that if you are even a few seconds late on the clicker and reward it is non-effective. On the flip side if you do get your timing correct, I agree your dog will “learn new behaviours quickly, easily, and enthusiastically”.

How many times a day and how long should I clicker train my dog? 

Many clicker trainers say you should try to keep the duration of the training sessions very short. 5-10mins and several short sessions during the day.

Which is fine so long as it is only basic training exercises and commands you are teaching, there are not many mentions what to do if this an ongoing behavioural issue.

Can I cause any damage to the dog with clicker training?

Well this question shows you how misinformed people are about training, 98% of trainers including old school trainers these days adhere to non-punitive levels of training.
However, this opens the debate of what is punitive training and what is non-punitive training. This is a whole new subject and is covered in many articles on the internet including my article, The Balance Trainer.

If I use food to train my dog, won’t that mean the dog will only obey if he’s sees the treat?

This seems to be one of the most frequent questions asked and rightly so as for many it is a worry.

Many trainers argue that this is only happens when the trainer makes a mistake.

The way to use food correctly is to reward after the dog has performed the behaviour. So, this all goes back to the timing of the reward and consistency which for the novice is always going to be hard.

At the end of the day there are so many questions and so much information about clicker training, but it all comes down to is this really the worthwhile tool that so many claim it to be. Or is simply another version of Pavlov’s Bell.

I suppose having done the research and over the years of intimately using the Clicker what I have found is unless you are 100% consistent and commit yourself to using this little piece of plastic then “NO” it is not a worthwhile tool. And it certainly should not represent all that is positive training.