How Does Clicker Training Work?

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

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #97

In my next article, I’ll give you pointers on how to clicker train effectively. Meanwhile, try this: Get yourself a clicker--most pet supply stores sell them now. Put 20 small, tasty treats in your pocket. And make it your business to deliver 20 clicks and 20 treats to your dog over the course of the day. Look for moments when your dog is doing something right--did she stay quiet when the doorbell rang? Click and immediately treat. Did she head for her bed when you started cooking dinner? Click and immediately treat. Did she look at you when you said her name? Click and immediately treat. Long before the end of the day, your dog will know what the clicker means. And you the human will be practicing the most important training skill of all, which is to notice and reward those moments when our dogs do something right.

You can follow The Dog Trainer on Twitter, where I’m Dogalini, as well as on Facebook, and write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and I may use them as the basis for future articles. Thank you for reading!


If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you’ve noticed that I often suggest “Yes” as a word marker where you might use a click, even though the clicker is better. That’s for two reasons. First, I want people to be able to start training right away if they’re feeling inspired. Training with a verbal marker is still pretty darn good, and pretty darn good training is much, much, much better than no training at all. Second, a few dogs are afraid of the click sound. Usually these dogs are skittish about crisp, quick sounds in general. If your dog is afraid of the clicker, you can try clicking a pen or using a tongue click, you can desensitize your dog to the sound (it’s best to get professional help if your dog is sound sensitive), or you can use a word marker. Otherwise, you can use a clicker wherever my articles mention using a word marker.

  1. I remember Kathy Sdao using this analogy in a presentation at Clicker Expo 2006, in Newport, Rhode Island.

  2. Now, clickers are cheap and they are not manufactured to precise specs, so of course they don’t all sound exactly alike, every time, to sensitive canine ears. But compared to, for instance, the spoken word “hello,” every click is a clone of every other click.

Some Clicker Videos

Attila Szkukalek and Fly (Corroboree Happy New Year) perform “The Gladiator.” The video quality isn’t great, but suck it up—“The Gladiator” is an incredibly silly, weirdly touching, and (from the point of view of training) brilliant example of the sport of canine freestyle (aka heelwork to music, dancing with dogs). 

Teaching puppies to greet without jumping. Note: This is a terrific technique, but probably best suited for a beginner puppy; for a big dog with an entrenched habit of jumping up, you would likely need to lay more groundwork first.

Teaching a dog to accept being bathed, by Sarah Owings of Bridges Dog Training in Los Angeles.

Jazz the Cat learns to stay on her mat while people eat. Again with the not-great video quality! But, yes, you can clicker train a cat (and any other animal you have handy, such as, for example, a hyena).

More Information About Clicker Training

Alexander, Melissa. Click for Joy! (Sunshine Books, 2003).
Miller, Pat. The Power of Positive Dog Training, 2nd ed. (Howell, 2008).

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


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).