When your dog attends classes at “Canines with Class” they will learn and achieve through consistency and mutual respect using positive, reward based methods. Intimidation, fear and aversives are not part of the training. The method I use in training is the highly effective use of a “Clicker.”

My classes are small (no more than five per class), so early registration is imperative! Most classes are seven weeks in duration lasting one hour per week. When your dog has completed his or her training, be assured that our association does not end. I always welcome follow-up conversations with any of my previous clients!

What is “Clicker” Training?

One of the challenges in training an animal is communicating exactly when the animal has done the behaviour that the handler is attempting to reinforce. As a simple example, consider teaching a dog to spin in circle. At the instant that the dog completes the turn, the handler must let the dog know that it has done the correct thing. However, the traditional response ... “good dog!” takes so long to say that the dog might already have moved on to some other behaviour. At the least it is not immediately obvious that the “good boy” is earned at the precise moment of completing a circle. By the time the dog realizes it is being praised, it might be sitting and scratching, or looking for something else to do.

It has been shown that any creature is more willing to learn through repeated actions when the outcome reaps an enjoyable consequence. Clicker training is a reward-based, positive-reinforcement-based system of training and this is the type of training I use in my dog training sessions.

Unlike other reward-based training systems, the clicker trained animal understands exactly what behaviour it is being rewarded for. When the desired behaviour occurs, a distinct sound, a click occurs at the exact same time as the action and the reward immediately follows. The click sound enables an animal to connect the desired action with the reward that is coming. Without a click, an animal will not connect the action with the reward, or associate a reward with an unwanted action. Clicker trainers can precisely “mark” behaviour so the animal knows what is doing. The trainer refers to this as an “event marker.” The click bridges the correct behaviour with the reward and is referred to as a “bridging signal.”

Human voices make words that sound different depending on our emotions. Because of this, it is difficult for our pet to pick out single words from all those sounds. When a clicker is used the animal knows that sound immediately and knows that it is directed at them and knows that an award is coming. And it is quick. Usually within two or three clicks an animal will associate that sound with the desired action and thereby receive the award and will happily repeat the action for the desired outcome again, and again. At least one study has shown that the clicker can reduce training time by approximately one third.

There is also some circumstantial evidence which suggests that the sound of the clicker is the kind of stimulus like a bright flash of light or a loud, or sudden sound that reach the the center of emotion in the brain first, before reaching the cortex (the thinking part of the brain).

Tasks learned with the clicker are retained even years after the fact and with no additional practice after the initial learning has taken place. This is probably due to the fact that the animal participates fully in the learning process and responds to it, learning by trial and error rather than acting out of habit or a momentary response to a situation. Clicker trained animals become great problem solvers, develop confidence, and perform their work enthusiastically. This retention of learning is present in positive reinforcement training.

Common Misconceptions

There are several common misconceptions about clicker training. Most of these can be a problem for the unskilled clicker trainer, but can be avoided.

Misconception 1:
“The dog will never perform the behaviour without the clicker.”

The clicker should be used to identify correct behaviour during training, not to maintain behaviour once the behaviour has been learned. Once a behaviour is performed each time the animal hears a specific cue (known as a command in traditional training), the clicker is discontinued.

Misconception 2: “Dogs will become distracted by the clicks of other trainers in a class, or public setting.”

This is very short-lived problem. Participants in clicker classes find that dogs are easily able to discriminate that only the clicks from their handler pay off. Clicks that don’t pay off are soon ignored by animals in learning situations.

Misconception 3: “Dogs become fat with clicker training because they get too many treats.”

Part 1 of the solution to this problem is either to use a portion of the dog’s regular diet as the training treats or to use reinforcers other than food. Part 2 is to remember that a training treat for a dog the size of a Labrador Retriever should be about the size of a pea. Smaller dogs get even smaller treats. Larger dogs get only slightly larger treats. Food is not the only reinforcer that can be used in training. A “reinforcer” is anything the animal is willing to work for in the current situation. Common non-food reinforcers include toys, attention, and the opportunity to do something the dog wants. For example, for a dog who wants to go for a walk, putting on the leash can reinforce sitting, going through the door can reinforce the dog who wants to go outside, and being greeted can reinforce a dog seeking attention.

Misconception 4: “You can't clicker train in noisy environments.”

The influence of environmental reinforcers is a challenge sometimes. Training for distractions is done by first training without distractions and then gradually adding complexity to the training environment.

Misconception 5: “A dog may grow into adulthood and only listen and obey if the owner is carrying treats. If the owner does not have treats, often is the case that the dog is distracted and paying attention to whoever may have treats and food rewards available.”

This is actually a potential problem with the “Lure Reward” method of training where food is visible. In clicker training the food should not be visible to the animals until the behaviour is completed. This could also happen when the trainer uses only one type of reinforcer. If the trainer uses only food, then the dog clearly learns that if food isn’t present, then there can be no reinforcement. This is a trainer error. The solution is to use a variety of types of reinforcers and to hold training sessions where food isn’t present. Also, you can include running to get the reinforcer into the reinforcement sequence.

Misconception 6: “There are some situations where a clicker may not be loud enough, such as in hunting or retrieving when the dog is walking away from the handler.”

The clicker is not magic; it is just one type of marker. If the dog can’t hear the click, use a different marker such as a whistle, or a tone on a collar. Deaf dogs are frequently trained with a flash of light, or a hand signal.

Misconception 7: “Some dogs are sensitive to noise and frightened by a clicker, so clicker training won’t work for them.”

If your dog is afraid of the clicker, then simply choose a different marker; perhaps even just a word, the clicking of a retractible pen, or a juice cap.