If you have attended a group class or private lesson with your dog, you might have heard of clicker training. A clicker is a small device that fits in the palm of your hand and emits an audible sound. Once trained to the clicker, it allows a slight time gap between when the dog performs the desired behavior and when he receives the treat from the owner. In this time gap, the dog will still understand the behavior for which he is being rewarded. Here is an example of how a dog can be confused when learning a new task without the clicker:
An owner asks his dog to lie down. The dog lies down, and the owner reaches for a treat. While doing so, the dog wags his tail, raises his ears, looked to the right, and licks his lips. The dog may think that he is getting the reward for any of these behaviors. However, if the owner used the clicker, the dog would understand that the reward was for lying down.
The main reason why the clicker is so beneficial is that the sound of the “click” is processed much faster by the dog’s brain than any spoken word by a person. The click reaches and is processed in the “instinctual” part of the brain by the amygdala where rapid learning occurs. The dog can quickly understand which desired behavior the reward is for, due to the click, much faster because he does not have to take time to think about the meaning of the sound of the click the same way he would have to with a spoken word.
Once your dog understands the new behavior that you are teaching him, you can stop using the clicker and replace it with a verbal cue. I use the word “yes,” but it can be anything. You need to train it the same way as the clicker, which will be explained in the next post.