Offering your dog praise and encouragement is a powerful training tool; but by adding clicker dog training methods to this tool you can cut your dog training time in half. The ‘clicker’ referred to in the name of this method is a simple sound making device; and could, actually, be a whistle or anything else. The clicking device is preferable just because it is distinctive and instantaneous. The method is as simple as the device, simply stated, you click when your dog does something you wish him to do; then you reward him.
The simplicity of this method is a little distracting; in practice, you train your dog in the same way you would without a clicker, so there’s nothing new to learn, exactly. The difference is more clearly observed in the effect. The clicker acts as a punctuation mark, or an ‘event marker’: ie, it’s sound communicates your approval the very instant that an approved behaviour or action takes place and your pet is in no doubt as to what he is doing which has earned your favour.
So, there is a little time necessary to train your dog to understand the clicker; but once the connection has been made, the training continues at a much faster pace. To teach your dog to respond to the clicker it is necessary to associate, in your pet’s mind, the clicker with approval. So, initial use of the clicker will be followed immediately by food and praise. For example, you tell your dog to sit, he sits, you click and feed him while telling him how good he is in an approving tone of voice. The initial training needs to be done close by so the click can be almost simultaneous with food. The food and praise are known as ‘primary reinforcers’: they are the specific rewards your dog works for and desires and by clicking exactly as they are rewarded, your dog makes a direct association between these events.
As time passes and your dog begins to make the association between click and food, the food can be delayed. By doing so it means you can begin to train at distance; always remembering that the click must be made at the exact moment a desired behavior or action takes place. In this case, the click becomes a ‘secondary enforcer’: is becomes a signal that the actual reward is to come. Much of the time spent in training can come from the difficulties of communicating effectively and this method cuts down on confused signals – clicker dog training has become extremely popular since it’s effectiveness seems unarguable.