Clicker training for fun & games – Part 1
People often think of clicker training as a fast and easy way to teach basic obedience commands, such as “sit” or “come,” but it can also quickly shape puppy behavior in ways that establish a productive and happy relationship, right from the start.
“Puppies understand very well and quickly that a click means something good, and that something the puppy did made that click happen,” says Kevin Alexander, a leading clicker training specialist from Kansas City, Kansas.
Kevin once taught an entire litter of 3-week-old Golden Retriever puppies to lift their paws on cue in just a few minutes. “When the puppies figure out that they’re getting clicked for a randomly lifted paw, you see the light bulb go on, as if they’re thinking, ‘Wait a minute, if I do this, that huge creature gives me food. That’s a good thing!’
Clicker Training can be used for much more than marking any single behavior. Mr. Alexander teaches pet owners how to use the clicker to teach incremental moves that can be shaped into desirable behaviors, such as going to a mat, standing nicely for grooming, or any number of fun tricks.
Lifting a paw, for example, can be transformed into a high-five trick, shaped into teaching the puppy to ring a bell when it needs to go outside, or even as an offering of the paw for nail trimming. As tricky as these behaviors may sound, the clicker makes them easy.
“When puppies understand what you want, they start doing things on purpose, making eye contact, and suddenly, these tiny puppies wake up and smell the coffee, and think about the universe in relation to themselves,” Kevin says. “It’s just a wonderful thing for puppies to learn.”
Clicker training is particularly useful for dogs that aren’t traditionally known for their skill at basic obedience. Perfect examples are Hounds, terriers and other traditional non-obedience breeds. These breeds do especially well with the clicker because it gives them a clear reason why they should do something they might not see the reason for otherwise.
Dogs that tend to have a “Why should I do this?” type of attitude really buy into clicker training (although it does work with all breeds). In fact, the best age to bring a clicker into your dog’s life is early, as young as two to three weeks of age.