Click ‘N’ Train

Clickers can be used to teach our canines new behaviours pleasantly. Last issue, Shaune Ryder gave tips on using clicker to shape your canine’s behaviour. Here, we present the right way to chant commands and reinforce positive behaviour of our canines.

Acommon training practice is to chant commands while attempting to push, pull or tug the dog into the desired position. This practice often leads to one of two problems. Either the animal understands the behaviour but must be told several times to do it, or the command is obeyed instantly, but in a sloppy fashion. If teaching the command and the behaviour simultaneously causes poor performance, the obvious solution is to teach them separately. Since a command without behaviour is pretty useless, a reasonable sequence would be to teach the behaviour first, and then add the command.

Down/stay Start with the dog in a seated position.

  • Touch a treat to the dog’s nose and gently move it to the ground, to a point between her paws, under her chest. As her nose catches up to the treat, she should be seated, and slightly humped over. Now, click and treat. Repeat this routine several times until she can easily follow your hand to the ground. If she attempts to stand, say “uh-uh”, or “wrong”, in a neutral tone of voice, and return her to a seated position. Try it again.
  • After she is consistently following your hand to the ground, add a second stage to the behaviour. Move your hand straight to the ground and wait for her to touch your hand with her nose. Once her nose touches your hand, begin to move the treat along the ground, toward you. The dog’s nose will follow the treat. If she moves either of her front legs forward as she follows your hand, click and treat. Try to get her to stretch a little farther each time. It is unnecessary to get the whole behaviour at one time. Be satisfied with steady, small progress. If she raises her rear end, say “wrong” and try it again.
  • As your dog stretches farther and farther, she will eventually walk herself into a “down” position (click and treat). As she begins to gain some confidence and speed, wait a few seconds, before you click and treat, so that she must hold the “down” position for several seconds. If she jumps up, say “wrong” and repeat the behaviour. Try to get 10-20 repetitions of this simple behaviour.
  • Now that your dog can easily follow the treat to the ground, make things a little tougher. Touch the treat to her nose and then quickly hide it behind your back. If she moves to get the treat, say “wrong” and try it again. Tease her in this way several times. If you see her make any attempt to lie down, click and treat. If she continues to try to circle behind you for the treat, lead her to the ground a few more times. Once the behaviour is again happening consistently, go back to several teases. Give her about 20 seconds on each “tease” to think about the target behaviour. If you have sufficiently strengthened the behaviour, you will be pleasantly surprised. After one of the teases, she is going to lie down on her own! If it takes more than three teases in a row to get her to lie down, go back to leading her to the ground a few times to refresh her memory. Reinforce any voluntary attempts at lying down, such as front paw movement, or head dips. This process can take a whole training session!
  • Once she is lying down each time you tease her, start saying the word “down”, JUST BEFORE she does it. Click and treat.
  • Now stand up and try the sequence again. Touch a treat to her nose and say “down”. If she lies down, click and treat. If she seems to forget the behaviour, lead her to the ground a few times and try your “teasing” routine again. Your aim at this stage is to get her to lie down on command, even if you are standing.
  • Start varying the reinforcement. A simple way to vary the reinforcement is to ask the dog for longer or shorter “downs”. Another approach is to give additional reinforcements for better performance. Since the clicker acts as an “end of behaviour” signal, by withholding the click you can easily turn “down” into a “stay.”
  • Start introducing the new command/behaviour in a training session that includes other behaviours. If your dog also knows how to “speak”, or “shake hands” or “turn your head”, try to get the dog to “down” after a “shake hands”, and then ask for sit, come or any other behaviour the dog knows.
  • Phase out the clicker once the behaviour is correctly integrated into the animal’s repertoire. A clicker is merely a tool used to build desired behaviour and it is rather impractical to use it in a show, competition or while working with your dog. At those times, verbal praise is sufficient.

Click ‘N’ Train

Clicker seems like such a simple gadget and it is hard to believe that it can control animals as big as a whale or as small as a tropical fish. At zoos, marine parks, and now even at dog training schools; elephants, whales, baboons and our faithful dogs are learning new behaviours pleasantly, thanks to this little tool. Here’s how to use clicker to shape your canine’s behaviour.

How clicker works

In essence, a clicker is an abbreviated way of saying “good boy.” It identifies for the animal exactly which behaviour “caused” reinforcement. Behavioural psychologists, who first used this tool for shaping behaviour, call it a secondary reinforcer. Primary reinforcers are the actual things that animals work for?–?food, water, physical affection or fetching a ball. A secondary reinforcer is a signal that is associated with actual reinforcements until it takes on some of the qualities of those reinforcers. To understand this, merely pick up your dog’s leash and ask if anyone would like to go for a walk. The leash is not the actual “walk,” the primary reinforcer, but can act as a secondary reinforcer by triggering an almost identical reaction. The clicker can be associated with many actual reinforcers, such as food, affection and play. Once the clicker takes on these properties, it can be used in a number of ways.

  • The clicker accurately identifies correct behaviour. Because the clicker is faster than verbal praise, it is more precise. By the time it takes to say “good boy,” an animal may perform the desired behaviour and then move to an unwanted response, before the praise has time to register. In this scenario, the animal can’t tell if the trainers liked the “sit” or “jumping up on the trainer” that occurred a split second later.
  • The clicker can also work well from a distance. It is impractical to try and toss a treat at an animal’s mouth at the exact moment that a desirable behaviour occurs. The clicker bridges the gap from the instant the animal performs the correct response and the time it takes to actually deliver a treat.
  • The clicker can take the place of actual treats. Just as verbal praise has the ability to satisfy an animal in the absence of treats, the clicker can motivate an animal to work through “dry spells.”
  • The clicker can take your dog’s mind off the actual reinforcement.
  • The clicker helps to define the end of the behaviour. When teaching a dog to stay, for instance, the click indicates how long the animal must remain in one spot before reinforcement is possible.

Charging up your clicker

The first step in “powering up” your clicker is to associate it with positive reinforcers. If your dog already knows some obedience behaviours, merely replace your use of verbal praise with the clicker.


  • Say “Sit.”
  • Tommy sits.
  • Click and treat. (The sequence of “click then treat” is important.) (Tip: If your dog does not yet know any formal behaviours, simply click the clicker and give the dog a treat. Do this about 20-30 times until the dog visibly startles at the sound of the click.)

Shaping behaviour

When offered a favourite snack, most dogs will sit expectantly and wait for the treat. After a few seconds of waiting, Tommy is likely to get impatient and fidget in some way. He may turn his head, backup, speak or lift a paw. Wait for the first thing he offers, click and treat. (For this first session, the behaviour you pick is not important.) If Tommy turned his head a little bit for the first click, wait a few seconds; he’ll do it again. Click and treat. Continue this process and watch how his behaviour changes. If you continue to click and treat each time he moves his head, the behaviour will become stronger. Now try waiting a second before you click. Try to get two “head turns” for the price of one treat. Once you have a clearly definable behaviour going (head turning), start saying, “Turn your head,” just before you think Tommy is going to do it. If the behaviour you shaped was lifting a paw, say “Shake hands” just before you think he is about to perform the behaviour.

Learning to use positive reinforcement to shape behaviours is a fun process. Your initial goal should be to simply watch how your dog’s behaviour changes, and see how the clicker helps you to identify correct responses.

NOTE: Treats should be small, bite sized and easy for the dog to swallow whole. Soft treats can be swallowed quickly and are preferable to hard and crunchy treats.

Next issue…Learn to chant commands and reinforce positive behaviour of your canines.