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This article I originally wrote for inclusion in the Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society newsletter, but the information applies to all breeds
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The following information is intended as an introduction only. For more detailed information, please refer to the list of recommended websites, books and videos at the end.


This form of training is particularly suited for independent, or primitive/aboriginal type dogs because, in general, this dog "type" does not take well to being "forced" to do anything.  They will become "reluctant" to perform accuratly or develop an aversion to training.  Many times after a leash/choke collar correction the dog simply quits or gets "rebellious".

To me this means that the training sessions are not "fun" or "motivational" for the dog.  Training that is not "fun" or "motivational" produces dogs that either do not perform well "known" behaviors or do perform them with a "distain" that is obvious to all observers.  Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but this is what I personally have experienced when dealing with Rottweilers, Shiba Inu and Basenjis.

Clicker" training (particularly the basic obedience or "trick" behaviors) is especially easy even for children.  Actually this method is more easily learned by children than adults becuse many adults have all those preconditioned experiences of what dog training is "supposed" to look like!  The following is a brief introduction to clicker training. Questions are welcome and may be directed to me via email.


Just what is clicker training?
Clicker training is a type of operant conditioning.  This is the same type of training used on dolphins and those dancing and piano playing chickens, because you cannot train them using leashes or physical punishments.  Clicker training is unlike any other method of training you have ever seen. It is a "hands off", "no force" positive reinforcement type of training.  As a matter of fact, most training is accomplished without using a collar or leash!  One of the primary advantages of clicker training is that it is very clear and easy to understand for the dog.  The box clicker makes a quick click that lets you easily and quickly identify what part of the offered behavior you are rewarding.  A comparison would be that a clicker takes a photograph of exactly what part of the behavior you liked, whereas praise is more like taping a few seconds of behavior with a video camera.  Using the sit for example; the click "photographs" the exact moment your dog's rear hits the ground . So you now have a crisp photo of your dog with his butt on the ground.  In contrast your prasie "video" having several seconds of tape, shows the dog's butt on the ground, him leaping after a fly, licking his nose and scratching his ear.  Now which one would give you a clear idea of just what was being rewarded?  Dogs WILL learn with both methods, however the clicker method is faster and clearer to the dog.


1) Q-My dog is too food oriented, I could not possibly do this.

A-Though food is used for rewards, the "food crazed" dog is able to concentrate on his task because the click defines the good behavior first and then the food treat is given several seconds later-not simultaneously

2) Q-My dog always moves after the click.

A-The click defines the END of the behavior, so once you've clicked the dog IS free to move

3) Q-My dog is too shy to train.  She cringes at the slightest correction

A-Timid animals are likely to become more lively and animated because they quickly learn the the click means "good things are coming".  Some noise shy dogs need you to click the clicker inside a pocket at first to dampen the sound.

4) Q-What if I mess up?

A- It is VERY difficult to mess up your dog with clicker training.  A timing mistake on your part may set you back a day or two in contrast to a correction error in traditional training that might set you back a month or more!

5) Q-Can any age dog be clicker trained?

A-Puppies especially, adapt readily to clicker training.  Older dogs with some training already may proceed very slowly at first until they realize that you actually WANT them to think and act for themselves!  It is facinating to watch the dog use it's mind and try to figure out what it is you want.

6) Q-I've always heard that kids cannot train dogs because they are not strong enough.

A-Even children can easily train dogs with clicke training as there is no "man handling" involved

7)Q-My friend uses a clicker to call his dogs, is this wrong?

A-YES! The click tells the dog he did good and not WHAT to do.

8)Q-For great performances do I click several times?

A- NO. One click is all you need.  You can give "jackpots" (extra food) for superior performance

9)Q-Whay don't we use commands at first?  This is hard!!

A- With clicker training we teach the dog the behavior first, then when the behavior is perfect we name it.  This way "sit" means a nice straight, fast sit and not a slow, sloppy sit . Not giving a command at first is the hardest thing for people who have trained dogs before-myself included!

10)Q- Gosh! I don't want to have to have a clicker and treats with me forever!  And you can't take them in the obedience ring!

A- A clicker and treats are teaching tools only!  Just like the choke collar and leash in traditional training.  Once the behavior is learned properly, praise works just as well.  Just as with traditional training, the well and PROPERLY trained dog will respond correctly on or off lead and whether or not you have a clicker and treats

How to begin
1) treats. Pick a soft or semi soft treat (cooked chicken, turkey hotdogs or string cheese for example) and cut it up very small.  Many dogs will work for their regular dry food, but will not work in a strange surrounding or keep at a difficult task if the treat is not "worth it"

2)The first thing you must do is associate the click with a treat.  Click and treat the dog five to ten times.  If at the end of this session the dog startles upon hearing the click and looks for a treat great!  If not you may need to work on this for a couple of days five to ten times per session.  The important thing to remember is to click, PAUSE a few seconds, then give the treat-never simultaneously

3) Next try to get a simple trick.  Show your dog the treat and stand nearby.  Wait for him to do SOMETHING (sit, down, lift a paw, whatever) when he does something click & treat.  Then wait for him to do it again. Do not give any commands and don't be waiting for a perfect version.  Just click & treat a good facsimile.  After a few repetitions your dog should be beginning to understand that the behavior leads to click & treat.  DO NOT be stingy with your clicks.  Most beginners do not click & treat often enough and the dog loses interest.  As the dog learns the behavior you can fine tune it by waiting for a slightly better version before clicking.  Do not try to progress too quickly or the dog will become frustrated and quit.  Once you've gotten to the point where you'd be willing to bet $5.  that the dog will perform the behavior promptly it is time to name it.  As the dog begins the behavior say the command, then click & treat as the dog completes the behavior.  For example as the dog shifts it's weight in preparation to lift his paw say "wave", dog lifts his paw, you click & treat.  It will take about 50 rrepetitions for the command to be accuratly connected to the behavior.  Remember-do not name the behavior until the dog is performing it accuratly and regularly!

4) Once the dog knows the game, you can introduce a no reward marker such as "sorry" or "try again".  This is given when the dog presents the wrong behavior or a sloppy version of a well known behavior.  This is given in a NEUTRAL tone of voice and is NOT a correction!  It simply means "sorry! that's not it , try again".  If you find yourself using your no reward marker a lot, then the dog does not understand what you are asking him.  At this point you should back up a few steps and let the dog succeed at a previous level for a few days and then progress in smaller steps.

Using the clicker for behaviors trained using a different method.   There are two approaches.  The first is used providing you like the dog's performance of the behavior.  You simply say the command and click & treat for correct performance.  After several repetitions you can withhold the click for less than perfect responses.  The second is used if you are having problems with an established behavior; such as fearfulness, sloppy performance etc.  Lure the behavior with a treat (using NO command) and click & treat for any facsimile (close ) behavior . After three to five repetitions stand back and see if the dog will offer you a semblance without a lure.  If so, click & treat and wait for another.  If the dog fails to offer the behavior lure and click & treat several more times and give it up for that session.  Next session, lure three to five times, then wait for the dog to offer the behavior as before.  If the dog is very inhibited this may take several sessions. REMEMBER, at first you are looking for a facsimile not the finished product.  Once the dog is offering the behavior you can attemt to slowly fine tune it.  Only change one thing at a time.  For example, do not go for both faster AND straighter sits in the same session.  Once the behavior is up to par, give it a name.  IF this was a very problematic behavior before clicker training be sure to give it a NEW name!  So no unpleasant connections are made.

The author's training website and bio

Working Class Canine

Clicker Websites

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Karen Pryor Clicker Gear Store

Shirley Chong

Gary Wilkes Click Start

Books & Videos

The Clicked Retriever
The Culture Clash: A Revolutionary New Way to Understanding the Relationship Between Humans and Domestic Dogs
Dogs Are from Neptune
Don't Shoot The Dog: Karen Pryor
Click & Treat Training kit video: Gary Wilkes Doggie Repair Kit: Gary Wilkes
Clicker Training For Obedience: Morgan Spector
Train Your Dog Like a Pro

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Last updated  1/26/21
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