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How Does Clicker Training Work?

Learn how clicker training works and whether it’s just a gimmick.

By
Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #97
Dog with clicker

Why Does Clicker Training Work?

The click stands out among all the other sounds a dog hears. It communicates clearly.

A couple of things. As you may have noticed, your dog doesn’t talk. Yes, he communicates, but he doesn’t speak in sentences made of words. Humans, on the other hand, cannot seem to shut up. Result, from our dogs’ point of view, most of what comes out of our mouths is meaningless and irrelevant. They learn to pick out words like “ball” and “walk,” and of course they expertly read our tone of voice and body language. But they generally learn to ignore our chatter. This makes it hard to train them using words.

On the other hand, most dogs hear a click for the first time when they’re introduced to it in a training session. Because this sound is new and unlike most other sounds they hear, they pay more attention to it, and they quickly learn how well it predicts good stuff in the immediate future.  The clicker comes to stand out for them--it reliably provides information that matters to dogs.

The Click Is Consistent and Precise

In addition, the click always sounds the same--it isn’t inflected or hurried or slowed down or subject to the other variations of human speech. (2) We all learn better when information is presented consistently, and that’s especially true if we are dogs and have not-very-big brains.

Finally, the click is short and precise. Put a little practice into your timing and you can click the instant your dog starts to turn her head at the sound of her name--not the second before, and not the second later. That matters because dogs move fast. With a well-timed click, you can flag for your dog exactly what behavior she did that earned a reinforcement.  Saying “Good dog” takes forever by comparison, and by the time you’ve said it Dogalini may be doing something a little less good.

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About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).