A brief Description of Clicker Training

by Connie Dwyer - Certified Animal Behavior Consultant

All my students are taught how to integrate marker based positive reinforcement in their dog training. This is also known as *Clicker Training*.



The clicker is a small device that makes a loud click noise and identifies exactly which behavior the dog performed which "caused" a treat to appear. In the scientific world, the click is called a secondary reinforcer and the food treat is the primary reinforcer. Primary reinforcers are what animals need or enjoy in life such as food, water, attention, a toy. A secondary reinforcer is a marker, in this case the sound of the click.

To help explain how this works, go pick up your dog's leash and see what happens. The leash is a marker for the walk, which is what the dog REALLY wants. If you never put a leash on your dog to take him for a walk the leash would be meaningless. You have paired the walk (primary reinforcer) with the leash (secondary reinforcer) so by picking up the leash the dog knows exactly what to expect – his walk! Leash means walk is coming. Once you follow the steps below - Click will mean food is coming!

The reason we use a clicker is that it precisely marks the behavior and eliminates the time delay of just using treats. For a treat to be associated with a behavior (and therefore effective in training) it must reach the dog within 3 seconds of the performed behavior, this is not always possible. The clicker is clicked exactly at the instance of the dogs behavior so there is no delay. Once you have charged the clicker (see next section) you can use it in your training tool box. Dogs learn extremely rapidly this way and enjoy every minute of it too!

Charging up your clicker:



This is the first step to help your dog understand that click means treat (or other good thing). If your dog already performs obedience behaviors such as SIT, you may use that to charge your clicker. So for instance,

  • 1) Ask your dog to "Sit".

  • 2) As your dog goes into the sit and his butt hits the ground, you will press the clicker.

  • 3) And THEN offer the treat as quickly as you can.


  • If you have not trained any behaviors yet, just get a lot of good treats on you in a pouch, click the clicker and give your dog a treat. Do this in rapid succession about 20-30 times until the dog visibly notices the sound of the click and looks like he is *expecting* his treat! Now you may use the clicker and treats to shape any behavior you want!

    Constance Dwyer, CABC
    Certified Animal Behavior Consultant

    copyright 2013 - Constance Dwyer - all rights reserved