Animal training is all about effective communication. The more precise, consistent and accurate the communication is, the faster the animal learns. And one of the best tools for this is a clicker.
Clickers are used to quickly and accurately tell your dog that what he did was exactly what you were looking for, at the exact moment he did it. And it signals to the animal that he should be rewarded for what he has done.
Clickers come in many shapes and sizes. It is basically a cheap toy that makes a cricket-like sound. Most clickers are small matchbox-sized plastic boxes.
How it works
In the beginning a clicker has no value for a dog, so you have to give it a meaning. To give the clicker a value, just click and give your dog a piece of highly valued food like chicken, cheese, liver treats and so on.
The food is one of several ‘primary enhancers’ to which dogs respond, and it is the easiest to use in this process. Other primary enhancers are physical attention, playtime and water. If you click and give your dog a piece of food and repeat this ten to twenty times, the clicker will now be associated with the food.
This process is called classical conditioning. And the clicker is now known as a ‘secondary enhancer’. In the dogís imagination, the clicking has actually assumed something of the quality of the primary amplifier, in this case ñ the food.
(Any of you who know Pavlov, the guy who rang a bell and connected the ‘food’ with the ‘food’, will quickly understand the process).
When your dog has made the connection between the clicker and the food, you can start using the click sound for training. This is called operant conditioning.
Clicking now means ‘Good Boy!’
Using a clicker is essentially the same as saying ‘Good Boy’ when he does something you want him to do. For example, if your dog puts his butt on the ground and you click the moment it happens, he will know that what he has done has earned him a treat.
So now he will repeat this behavior more easily in the future. So the clicker essentially ‘captures’ your dog’s behavior because he quickly recognizes it and the dog understands that he will be rewarded.
The clicker is faster and more precise than saying ‘good dog’ because people tend to remember to click more consistently and precisely than when they are verbally praised. People say ‘good dog’ so many times during the day that this phrase often has less value than the specific clicking sound. And honestly, it takes longer to say “good dog” than to click.