Clicker training is about rewarding your pet for good behaviour. Rewarded behaviour is much more likely to be repeated which is what makes this such a successful and positive method of training. Many animals can be clicker trained; this is not just an activity for dogs. Cats, Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, Hamsters and Reptiles have the capacity to learn from clicker training.
How to Begin Clicker Training
All you need is a clicker and some high-quality and tasty treats. If you have a small animal, it is best to use a clicker that is adjustable, as some will be very sensitive to sharp noises. If you are doing a lot of training with your pet, reduce their daily meals down to compensate for the extra calories they are getting. Start in a quiet area, somewhere you and your pet will not be disturbed and lose concentration.
Remember to keep training sessions short, far more will be learnt in three five-minute sessions than in an hour of boring repetition.
Click and Treat
In your quiet training space, start by simply clicking the clicker and immediately giving your pet a treat. You can either hand feed them or throw a treat on the floor. At this stage, all you are doing is building a positive connection between the sound of the click and a tasty treat. Once your pet starts looking for a treat after they hear a click, that is when you can start teaching them new skills.
For some pets, it will take 10 clicks to get this connection for others it can take 100 clicks. Patience is key as every animal will learn at a different pace.
Building a Trick
Now your pet is expecting a treat after they hear the click, you can start building up different actions. Two easy tricks to start with are sitting (ideal for cats, dogs and rabbits) or simply getting your pet to touch an object (can use this with any animal). Hold out your hand, or an object of your choice, for example, a stick or toy.
As soon as your pet approaches the object or starts placing their bottom on the floor, click and treat them. Remember that the click is what you want them to notice, try not to talk at this stage, as your pet might find this confusing.
Once your pet does finally touch the object, click immediately and reward them with extra treats, so they know they have done well.
Using your Voice
After your pet has either been rewarded for sitting a few times or for touching an object, you will notice they start performing this action instinctively. This is when you can use a word to indicate the action you want them to perform. So just before they perform the action, use the words, keep repeating this and slowly phase out the clicks and treats until you are only rewarding after you have said the word.
Clicker training is used to promote good behaviour and is not command-based. It can be used to fix bad behaviour but only by rewarding good behaviour. Examples include: clicking and rewarding your pet for relieving itself in the proper spot, click and reward for paws on the ground, not on your visitors, you can even stop pulling on the lead by clicking and treating those moments when the lead happens to go slack.
Always treat and reward good behaviour immediately, but keep in mind sometimes you have to reward the small steps towards the goal! Have fun and enjoy achieving great things with your pet.
For help with recall training, read our handy guide.