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Getting started

Getting Started

There are just a couple of things to keep in mind before you get started. First, especially in the beginning, find a room or area to work in that is reasonably quiet and free of distractions. Second, keep your sessions short – three or four five-minute sessions will work much better than one or two ten-minute or longer sessions. You want your dog to look forward to these training sessions, and not become bored or fatigued.


Association/Connection

Before beginning any actual training, you will need to work on building the association between the treats and the clicker. Some call this "charging up" or "powering up" the clicker. It’s easy. Make sure your dog isn’t doing anything bad at the moment. Then just click the clicker, and immediately give him a treat. Don’t worry about any particular behavior at first, just click the clicker, give a treat. Repeat this five to ten times, or until your dog immediately looks up at you when he hears the clicker, as if to say, "I heard that click, where’s my treat?" Some dogs will get it quicker than others. Number of repetitions isn’t important; your dog’s response is.

Remember; always give a treat when you click. Your dog must absolutely associate the sound of the clicker with a treat, so never click without treating.

Occasionally a dog will be startled or frightened by the sound of the clicker at first. No problem, just put it in your pocket, or muffle it by wrapping a towel around it. It won’t take long before he looks forward to hearing it!


First Lessons

There is no real order to the behaviors your dog can learn by this method, so these are suggestions only.

If your dog or puppy has had no previous training, you might want to start with "Sit." Have your clicker in one hand, a treat in the other, more treats in your pocket or within easy reach.


Touch a treat to your dog’s nose and then lift it up slightly. As he reaches for it, slowly move your hand higher and back toward his eyes a bit, so that he has to reach for it. As he reaches higher for the treat, his butt will naturally hit the ground. The instant his rear end touches the ground; you click (timing the click is critical!) and give him the treat. You have "lured" him into a sit! Always click while the desired behavior is occurring, never afterwards. And always click first, then treat, but do it immediately with no delay.

Repeat this several times and then simply "tease" him by touching a treat to his nosing briefly and then removing it. Chances are he will offer the sit to you.

It’s okay if he gets up right away. The click actually ends the exercise anyhow. Clicking "marks" the behavior, and your dog will remember what he was doing when he heard the click. So just do it again. If your dog does anything other than sit, like backs up or tries to jump for the treat, just ignore him, wait a minute and try again. Don’t worry about saying, "Sit." Just click and treat whenever his rear touches the floor.

Once your dog has made the connection between the behavior and the reinforcer, try stretching out the time just a few seconds between the time he sits, and the time you click and treat. Don’t make it too long, just enough that he sits and looks at you expectantly. Then click and treat. Then try not clicking right away, and moving your treat hand away. You’re teaching the dog to sit until he hears the click. If he gets up, just ignore him and try again. Eventually he will start coming in front of you and sitting to get his click and treat, which is something you should encourage.


Attach a Cue (Command) to the Behavior

Cues are attached to a behavior only after you have the dog offering the behavior. This is because you can only teach one thing at a time, and since a cue without a behavior is useless, you might as well teach the behavior first. Remember that your dog does not understand English. A word only becomes meaningful when it has been paired with an action over many repetitions. So first get the dog to offer you the behavior on a regular basis; then put a name to it; fade the reinforcement as he becomes proficient, and then start teaching another behavior!

Once your dog is reliably sitting, start saying "sit" (you can also use a hand or body signal) just as he is beginning to lower his rear, and just before you click and treat. Keep giving the command as you move the treat over his head, until he gets the idea that he needs to sit when you say "sit." Eventually he will not need the clicker to sit, though you should still treat whenever he responds correctly. However, in time, you will want to vary whether or not you give him a treat. This is called variable positive reinforcement, and is desirable because you want your dog to respond even when you don’t happen to have treats available. You still need to treat sometimes, though, because if you never do, he may stop responding altogether and the behavior will become extinct. But as long as you treat occasionally, he will continue to sit on command.

If you’re consistent, sitting becomes firmly established. Then it’s time to move on to another behavior, using the same process. "Targeting" and "Attention" are two other behaviors you might want to try early on, as they’re fairly easy. Targeting is teaching your dog to touch something with his nose on command, while Attention is getting him to look at you when you call his name. Other fairly simple behaviors you can teach include:

– Down and stay
– Heeling
– Loose leash walking
– Recall
– Leave it

In addition to basic obedience behaviors, you can have a lot of fun teaching your dog various tricks and fun behaviors, such as:

– High five
– Shake paw
– Stand up
– Fetch

The list is about as long as your imagination, restricted only by your time, your patience and your dog’s intelligence, which is probably a lot higher than you think!


Wrong

While basic clicker training focuses primarily on positive reinforcement of a desired behavior, there are times you will want and need to let your dog know that he is doing something that is not desired. The way to do this is to incorporate the word "Wrong" into the training exercises. If you are teaching your dog to sit, for example, and he jumps up to grab the treat rather than reaching for it while lowering his back legs into a sit, you simply say, "Wrong," withdraw the treat, and ignore him until he settles down, then try again. You don’t need to yell, or jerk the treat away, or become agitated. Just calmly say, "Wrong," and continue the exercise. Use this technique with every behavior you’re trying to teach, and eventually when your dog hears "Wrong," he will know that he is not performing a behavior that will result in a treat.

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