The clicker is a magical device that instantly teaches your dog every cue and makes them immediately well-behaved. Just kidding! There’s nothing magical about clickers, but they can be super useful when teaching your dog new skills. So what does the clicker do?
A clicker is used as a specific signal to your dog that she did the right thing. It serves as what we call a “marker,” that tells your pup exactly what she did to earn a treat. It can also be called a “bridge,” again indicating “you did what I wanted! Now come get your treat.” So why is this useful?
For one thing, we humans are sometimes a little slow at wrangling a treat out of our pouch and getting it to the dog. If we want to reward her for making eye contact with us, we might not get the treat to her mouth until after she has looked away, sat, and jumped back up- so it’s not clear that the eye contact was the behavior that earned the treat. So a clicker helps us tell the dog exactly what she did to earn a reward. If we don’t mark and reward within a second or two, she’s likely to lose interest or not know what she did right.
This is particularly useful when we’re looking for very specific or precise behaviors. If we want to teach our dog to tilt her head on cue, we need to capture the exact instant that she tilts her head, before moves. The clicker allows us to mark that exact tilt very quickly!
A clicker or bridge is also helpful if you need to mark a correct behavior when the dog is too far away to get a reward quickly. You might want to click your dog for a “stay” behavior when she’s 20 feet away! We often see this with marine mammals, too. If a trainer asks a dolphin to swim to the other end of the pool and do a flip, they’ll mark that flip with a whistle (the same purpose of a clicker) that tells the dolphin, “you did it! Come back and get your fish.”
Once your dog learns that click means “you did it right, rewards are coming!” you can teach your dog tons of new skills quickly. It’s a communication method that’s highly effective. There are tons of clickers out there, from louder metal “box” clickers to softer button clickers to new clickers you can wear like a ring. So what if you can’t use a clicker? If you can’t physically use a clicker (or just don’t want to!) there are other options to do the same thing. You might try using a whistle to indicate the correct behavior, or another sound-making device that you can press with a foot. The type of sound or device doesn’t matter, so long as it’s consistent and quick enough to capture precise moments. And if there’s not a device that works for you, try a voice marker! We recommend using a higher pitch, quick sound that you keep consistent. Using a word or sound that you don’t normally say in everyday life/conversation is also a good idea, so you don’t accidentally mark your dog during a phone conversation with a friend! Some trainers like to use “yes” or “yip” or even a tongue click. Regardless of what type of marker you use in your training, we recommend you try this fun method! It’s great for teaching your dog new behaviors and tricks, and it’s FUN!
Also- you can ABSOLUTELY clicker train your cat or other pets! http://www.thejacksongalaxyproject.org/2018-Cat-Pawsitive-Clicker-Training-Basics-Handout-FINAL.pdf
If you want to learn more training tips, check out our resources page!