Learn how clicker training works and whether it’s just a gimmick.
The Click Zeroes In on the Behavior You Want to Train
For example, suppose you’re teaching Zippy to leave temptations alone. You might start by standing lightly on a dry dog biscuit and letting Zip paw and nose at your foot. Eventually there comes a moment when Zippy, frustrated because he wants the biscuit but can’t get it, backs off a couple of millimeters from your foot. Usually, the first time a dog does this, he backs off super briefly. Using a clicker, you can mark that nanosecond’s worth of non-foot-mugging behavior, so Zippy knows exactly why that reinforcing piece of chicken is being delivered to his waiting mouth. I promise, with some practice you can time that click much better than you could ever time a “Good dog” or even a short word like yes. I’ve found that with most dogs, by the time we’ve done a dozen reps I can’t even get them to look at my foot. (That’s only the first step—sorry!-- of teaching a “Leave it,” of course.)
Clickers Make Training Easier
Because a clicker helps us communicate so clearly and precisely, with a little practice we can easily teach our dogs everything we need them to know. Also, never underestimate how much fun it is to work with a dog who’s eager and invested in the process. I say “work with a dog,” but maybe I mean play. Many experienced clicker trainers believe that their dogs learn to experiment creatively in training sessions, trying to figure out what new behavior will earn a click and a treat. The most skilled trainers are able to teach their dogs charming and complicated dance routines and super-precise maneuvers in dog sports. Some video links appear at the bottom of this article.