Clicker training your puppy

Clicker training your puppy

Posted by PetDirect on 16th Jun 2022

A dog that calmly and quietly sits by their owner’s side, waiting for instructions. A dog that walks off lead but always comes when they’re called. A dog that looks adoringly up at their owner as they enjoy a loving moment together. Yep, a well-behaved pup with great manners is a real joy. It’s not happened by accident though, it’s the results of hours of training.

If you want a well-mannered pup to be proud of, clicker training can help - find out more about this positive reinforcement training method, including how to do it.

What is clicker training?

Clicker training was developed in the 1940s as a way to communicate with dolphins and whales. These days, clicker training is used for all sorts of animals, including dogs, cats, rabbits, horses and more. Because rewards (like treats and praise) are a big part of it, it’s a positive reinforcement training method. It’s simple to do and helps to create a shared language with your puppy that you’ll use together for the rest of their life.

In a nutshell, clicker training helps your puppy associate the clicking noise with good behaviour. You’ll use a clicker to mark the moment something happens (in this case, the right behaviour) and then provide a reward. This ensures your puppy knows exactly what they've done to be rewarded and that they get good things when they behave well. Plus it motivates them to repeat the behaviour, again and again. Although you’ll start with tempting treats, as you move through your training and phase out the clicker you can start to use praise and pats as a reward instead.  

Over time, your puppy will learn that the clicking noise means that good stuff is coming - so they’ll pay attention to what they were doing when the click happened, and will repeat it to get another click (but most importantly, another treat!). This is really handy as you train your puppy.

What is a clicker?

A clicker is a small box that emits a clicking noise when you press it. It’s a really useful training tool for all puppy parents.

Getting started

Your puppy can learn anything through clicker training, from the basics like sit and stay through to fetching the newspaper. Here’s how to get started with eye contact and attention training.

  • Find a quiet place, with no distractions.
  • Make sure you’ve got your clicker and plenty of delicious treats as a reward. A treat bag is a good idea as it leaves your hands free for the clicker and lead (if you’re outside).
  • Start with the basics, like teaching your puppy to pay attention. Simply stand near your puppy and wait quietly for them to look at you.
  • When they do, click then give them a treat as a reward. It doesn’t matter if your puppy doesn’t look you right in the eye, any look in your general direction counts.
  • Repeat this - wait quietly again, click when you see what you want to see more of (i.e. they glance in your direction), and reward. Repeat until you’ve run out of treats.
  • Gradually increase the difficulty. Wait to click until they look you right in the eye or hold eye contact for longer. You can even move around so your puppy has to find you to make eye contact.
  • Once they’ve got this eye contact and attention training downpat, move onto more commands like sit, stay and down.
  • Keep them engaged in your training sessions by mixing up the commands you teach them and upping the difficulty.
  • Do short sessions, rather than one long session. Aim for around 5 minutes of training at a time.
  • Try different training spots. Practice your commands in different areas, like the garden, hallway, kitchen and out on walks. This helps your puppy learn to behave, wherever they are.  

5 clicker training tips

Now you know how to get started, learn some tips to help you and your pup really nail clicker training.

  1. Use the clicker correctly. It’s really important that you use the clicker in the right way. The first thing to remember is that you should click for the behaviour you want to see more of. For example, if you’re teaching your puppy to sit, you should click as their bottom touches the ground (timing is crucial). You can then progress to full or longer sits. The second thing is that you should always click first, and then reward.
  2. Always give a treat. If you’ve clicked, you have to give a reward - that’s the rule, even if you clicked at the wrong time (that’s on you, not your puppy!). Follow each and every click with a treat so that your puppy learns that clicks always result in deliciousness. If there are too many clicks without a reward, your puppy will decide the click is meaningless and not worth their attention. Make sure the treat being given is a high value treat, one that your puppy really wants and is used just for training. Also use treats that are small and that they can eat quickly, you don't want to be waiting for your pup to chew.
  3. Keep your clicker hand still. You should only move the parts of your hand that you need to make the click happen. This is normally your thumb and forefinger. Any other hand movement is distracting for your pup. They might start watching your body rather than listening for the click.
  4. Store treats out of sight. Treats are distracting for your puppy - if they can see them, especially if you’re waving them around - they’re going to be focused on the treats, not the clicks. This is when a treat bag can be a good investment.
  5. Be patient. Training a puppy is a long process that takes time, kindness and patience. If your puppy doesn’t get the behaviour right, that’s ok. Simply repeat the command and wait to click. Avoid saying no or getting angry - this will probably make the training take even longer. Your puppy will soon learn that no click means no reward, so they best try something different.

Clicker training is a great, fun way to train your puppy and build a life-long bond. If you need any further help or have a question we haven’t answered, contact our friendly Pet Direct Customer Care team on 0800 200 240 or email support@petdirect.co.nz.

Shop clicker training must haves