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  • Molly Weinfurter

Clicker Training for Dogs: Understanding the Basics

Updated: Jun 12

Clicker training for dogs can be beneficial for positive reinforcement training. Using a dog clicker helps mark good behaviors and sets expectations for your furry friend. So, if you need help working on your dog’s training, consider learning more about clickers and how to use them. You might find that they make training a lot easier for you and your dog.

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What is Clicker Training for Dogs?

A dog training clicker is a button that makes a loud, distinct clicking sound when you press it. It’s used to mark good behaviors in dogs. With proper training, your dog will learn that the clicker means they did something right. So, whenever they listen to a command, you can mark the good behavior with the clicking sound so your dog will know they did what was expected of them.

Clickers are inexpensive objects that you can find at most pet supply stores. Most dog trainers recommend using them as long as your dog isn’t scared of the noise.

Here are a few popular dog clicker products:

Why Should You Use Clicker Training for Dogs?

Dogs learn best from rewards rather than punishments, so a clicker is a way to reward your dog without having to give them a treat every time. Clickers produce consistent sounds. The clicks will always sound exactly the same and be the same volume. Plus, there probably aren’t other sounds in your dog’s life that sound similar.

Since clicker sounds are so unique, there’s no way for your dog to confuse the noise with something else. Thus, it’s the easiest way to let your dog know they’re doing a good job. Clickers also allow you to mark the behavior right away while giving a treat usually takes a few seconds longer. Plus, clickers are compact, making them easy to bring with you on the go.

Can You Use a Verbal Cue Instead of a Dog Training Clicker?

If a dog is afraid of the sound the clicker makes, it’s okay to use a verbal cue instead, such as “yes.” My dog gets startled and runs away when she hears the clicker sound. So, the trainer I was working with said it was better to use a verbal cue instead, especially since she's a senior dog who's unlikely to warm up to the clicker sound easily.

It might seem easier to use your voice instead of a clicker, but many trainers recommend the clicker whenever possible. That’s because, unlike the clicker, your voice’s tone and volume can change. And if more than one person works on training with your dog, the verbal cue may sound different.

So, if your dog is comfortable with the clicker, you should use it. It provides more consistency for your dog, allowing them to learn its meaning faster.

When to Avoid Using a Dog Training Clicker

The main reason to avoid using dog clicker training is if the sound scares your dog. Timid dogs or dogs sensitive to noise might cower at the sound, making it harder for them to recognize it as a positive thing. In those cases, they may be able to learn a verbal cue faster.

Another reason you might not want to use clicker training is if your dog has severe behavior issues, such as aggression. If their behaviors have already gotten out of hand, clicker training may not help or it may take much longer to be effective. In those situations, it’s best to work with a professional trainer rather than trying to take matters into your own hands. A trainer can help you create a personalized training plan that’s beneficial for your dog’s needs.

German Shepherd clicker training

How to Clicker Train a Dog

When learning how to use a clicker for dog training, there are a few steps to take, such as the following.

Introduce the Clicker

New things can be scary for dogs, even objects as small as a clicker. First, let them sniff the clicker without pressing it. Then, try clicking it while you’re in the same room as them to see their reaction. Your dog will likely ignore it or look toward the sound since they don’t know what it means yet. However, if they run away, that’s a sign that the sound could be traumatizing for them.

Once your dog has had a chance to investigate the clicker on their own, you can click it a few times near them and give them a treat each time. That will show them that the clicker is something good.

Associate the Clicker with Treats

Next, start using the clicker whenever you would normally give your dog a treat. For example, if your dog sits on command, click the clicker as soon as their butt hits the ground. Then, you can give them a treat after. You should use low-calorie training treats, such as Buddy Biscuits Trainers or Pet Botanics Training Rewards.

Clicking it as soon as the behavior is completed makes it easier for the dog to understand what they’re being rewarded for. As they’re getting used to the clicker, give them a treat every time you press the clicker to help them associate it with getting rewarded.

Click to Mark Good Behaviors

Whenever you’re with your dog, keep the clicker on you. Use it whenever you say a command and your dog obeys, even if you don’t have training treats on you. If you have practiced enough, your dog should understand the meaning of a clicker even without the treats.

If you want, you can also say a verbal cue like “yes” as you press the clicker. That way, you can mark the behavior with a verbal cue whenever you don’t have the clicker with you. However, as mentioned earlier, a clicker is usually preferred over a verbal cue since it’s more consistent.

Keep Practicing with and without Treats

When it comes to dog training, practicing should never stop. Use the clicker as much as you can and set aside time for training sessions to help improve your dog’s skills. Even when you know your dog fully understands the meaning of the clicker, it’s still beneficial to keep using it to help them learn new behaviors and tricks while also reinforcing old ones.

Yorkie training session

How to Choose the Best Dog Training Clicker

When choosing the best dog clicker, there are a few aspects to focus on: size, sound, and ease of use. Make sure the button is small enough to easily bring on the go and make sure it’s easy to press the button. Some products may even have a strap attached to it to make it easier to carry.

If possible, shop for dog clickers in person so you can test out the button and make sure the sound is clear enough. If you’re shopping online, look at the product reviews to see if other dog parents found it beneficial. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Use a Dog Clicker for Bad Behavior?

The clicker sound shouldn’t be used to mark bad behaviors, but you can use the clicker to redirect bad behaviors. If you notice your dog doing something they’re not supposed to, redirect their attention with a command. When they listen to you, use the clicker to mark the good behavior to encourage them to pay attention to you instead of misbehaving.

What Does a Dog Clicker Sound Like?

A dog clicker sounds like the click of a loud button. It’s like pressing a button on a remote, but the clicking sound is magnified to ensure your dog won’t miss it.

Why is Clicker Training Bad?

Clicker training isn’t bad unless you misuse it. Make sure you only press the clicker to mark good behaviors, and press it as soon as your dog completes the desired behavior. If you’re having trouble with clicker training, consider working with a professional dog trainer.

Can You Use a Dog Clicker for a Cat?

Clicker training can also work for cats. If you’re wondering how to clicker train a cat, the process is similar to clicker training for dogs. However, since cats can be more independent than dogs, you may need more patience and consistency when it comes to training.

Where Can You Buy a Dog Clicker?

Most pet supply stores sell dog clickers. You can also buy them from online retailers like Amazon and Chewy.

dog with durable leash sitting

Clicker Training for Dogs is Beneficial for Positive Reinforcement

Clicker training for dogs is beneficial for all dog parents because it makes positive reinforcement training easier. Some dogs may pick up on it right away while other dogs may need a little more time to figure it out.

Training should be fun for you and your dog, so schedule regular training sessions to keep them mentally stimulated while also improving their tricks and commands using the clicker. If at any point you’re struggling to train your dog, it’s always a good idea to reach out to a professional trainer for the best results.


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