Can You Use a Clicker for Bad Behavior?


A clicker is a powerful tool for training dogs. It will allow you to identify exactly when your dog does something right and then follow it immediately with a reward. As a result, it will reinforce the desired behavior.

A clicker is an event marker. When a dog hears the clicker, they know that they have done something that their owner likes. A clicker is associated with something positive, that is why it can’t be used for bad behavior.

An event marker will encourage your dog to repeat the “marked” behaviors because of its association with a reinforcer or a reward. The clicker as an event marker will have a pleasurable effect on your dog, as it is associated with something they like, such as treats or praise. When they hear the click, they will know that they will be immediately rewarded. The clicker gives an overall good feeling to your dog.

Clicker Training Misconceptions

There are lots of misconceptions about clicker training, and here are some of them.

1.    The Clicker Gives a Command

A clicker doesn’t tell your dog what it has to do. You cannot use a clicker to command your dog to sit, ay down, stay, or heel. It tells your dog that they did something right. That is why a click always comes with a reward after. With clicker training, you use verbal commands, and when your dog does them right, you use the clicker to let them know you liked what they did, then you give them a reward. When your dog hears the click, they anticipate an upcoming reward.

2.    The Clicker is Used to Get Your Dog’s Attention

The clicker is never used to get your dog’s attention. It is a marker that lets your dog know they did something right and behaved correctly. The clicker sound is associated with the desired behavior and the treat or praise that follows. It would be almost impossible to offer a reward or treat at the specific moment your dog is doing the desirable behavior. This is where the clicker can come in handy. The clicker sound will mark the dog’s behavior as something positive and then the dog will anticipate the reward.

3.    The Clicker Can be Used in Place of a Treat

Keep in mind that a clicker is not a reward for a desirable behavior; it is a signal that a reward will be given. When you are starting out with the clicker training, you will “prime” the clicker by clicking it and giving your dog the treat immediately after a desirable behavior. Your dog will then associate the sound of the clicker with an upcoming reward, encouraging them to repeat the desirable behavior.

4.    The Clicker is Used to Stop a Bad Behavior

A clicker cannot stop bad behavior; however, you can shape new positive behaviors using clicker training, which can help prevent and deter bad behaviors. For instance, your dog is barking excessively. You can train them to bark on command by using the clicker training. As a result, your dog will bark less when there is no reward involved.

5.    The Clicker is Used to Keep Your Dog in Line

There is no punishment involved in training with a clicker. Instead, it deters undesirable behavior in a non-confrontational manner by focusing on good behavior. This method of training is where you ignore the bad behavior and reward your dog’s good behavior. This way, the dog tends to repeat good behavior because it is associated with the rewards given, such as treats.

6.    You Have to Bring Your Clicker with You All the Time

Clickers are usually used when your dog is learning a new behavior. When your dog masters the behavior, the clicker is no longer needed.

7.    You Have to Have Food with You All the Time, or Else, Your Dog Won’t Perform

Some people think that lure-reward food-based training is the same as clicker training. Clicker trainers will never use food as a lure. If you click train your dog correctly, you don’t need to show your dog the treat first before they perform. Clicker training requires a trainer to adapt a variable schedule of reinforcement or phasing out food.

8.    Your Dog will Get Fat with Clicker Training because of using Treats

The food rewards in clicker training are minimal and they represent just a relatively small fraction of a dog’s total food intake per day.

9.    When Your Dog Hears Other Clicks from Other Trainers in the Vicinity, They will Get Confused

This is not the case because dogs are actually experts at discriminating. They are able to discern the clicks that come from their handlers, and they can easily ignore the clicks from other trainers.

10.  You Have to Starve Your Dog Before Every Clicker Training Session

You don’t have to starve your dog; you can just simply restrict the food that you freely give. It doesn’t mean that your dog is starved. It just means that your dog’s food is given in different locations at different times of the day. Did you know that most dogs that undergo clicker training will take their “earned” treat but will refuse it if the treat is placed in a bowl? This is because of the conditioned association. If you give a generous amount of food during training it would be inappropriate to provide more food after the training, or you will end up having a fat dog.

11.  The Only Reward You Can Use is Food

You can use other rewards instead of food. Other dogs get excited with toys or even simple praise. However, most trainers use treats as a reward, because it really is a good option as long as it is properly prepared and can be quickly swallowed.

12.  In Clicker Training, You Never Talk to Your Dog

That is not true. Commands are given verbally, and the clicker is used as an event marker. However, a dog can focus better without continuous chatter. A well-trained dog doesn’t need ongoing assurance that they are doing a great job. Your dog already knows that he is doing good when he hears the clicker.

13.  Clicker Training is Hard to Learn

Some clicker trainers do use strange words to train their dogs. However, you can use words you are comfortable with, as well. Once you got your clicker “charged” you can begin to train your dog with anything you fancy. So, what does charging the clicker means? It means teaching the dog that the clicker sound is an indication that a reward is coming. Timing is also important when it comes to clicker training. You have to use the clicker the moment your dog does the desirable behavior, so they can associate the sound to the behavior.

14.  Clicker Training is Impossible to Do in Groups

There are a lot of people that think that clicker training cannot be done in a group situation because the dogs might get confused with all the clicking. However, this is not the case, as the dog is able to discern the clicker that their owner or trainer uses.

15.  Clicker Training is Just a Gimmick or Fad

The theories that clicker training is based on are principles of operant conditioning. The idea is that the dog will repeat the desirable behaviors that are rewarding and they will avoid those that are not. You have to keep in mind that the clicker is only used as a tool, the principles behind it are more important.

Tips in Getting Started with Clicker Training

To get you started with clicker training, here are some helpful tips.

  • You can make a two-toned click by pushing and releasing the springy end of the clicker. Then you can give the treat. Remember to keep the treats small.
  • With the clicker, timing is crucial. You have to click while your dog is doing the desirable behavior, not after the behavior is completed. Do not worry if your dog stops doing the behavior when they hear the click. The click will end the behavior, and that’s when you will give the treat.
  • Use the clicker when your dog does something you like. You can start with something easy such as sit, come, etc.
  • You only have to click once. If you want your dog to become more enthusiastic, you can increase the number of treats but not the clicks.
  • The training sessions should be short. Five to fifteen minutes will do. Your dog can learn more in three five-minute sessions than in an hour-long session with boring repetitions.
  • You can deter bad behavior by clicking on good behavior. Instead of scolding your dog for barking loudly, you can click when they are silent. Click when their paws are on the ground, not on the furniture or visitors. You can also get rid of leash pulling by clicking during moments when your dog’s leash is on a slack.
  • Click for accidental or voluntary movements and behaviors toward your goal. You can coax your dog into a position or movement, but do not pull, push, or hold them. Them your dog discover how to perform the behavior on their own.
  • Do not wait for perfect behavior. Click and give a treat for small movements that lead to the right direction. If you want your dog to sit, you can start to click when you see them crouch in back. If you want your dog to come to you, click when you see them taking a few steps towards you.
  • Make your goals bigger. As soon as your dog does what you desire, such as voluntarily lying down, sitting, or coming toward you, you can start asking for more. Wait a few seconds until your dog sits a little faster, stays down a little longer, or comes toward you a bit further. This is what you call “shaping” your dog’s behavior.
  • When your dog has learned to do a behavior for clicks, they will start showing the behavior instinctively, trying to get you to click. You can now start to offer a cue – it can be a word or a hand signal. When your dog does the behavior, start clicking after or during the cue. Then you can begin ignoring the behavior when there is no cue given.
  • Do not order your dog around. Using a clicker is not command-based. When your dog doesn’t respond to the cue, it doesn’t mean that he is disobeying; it just means that he hasn’t ultimately learned the cue yet. Every time you train, practice with the cue so your dog will get it eventually.
  • You can carry the clicker with you and catch your dog’s “cute’ behaviors such as chasing their tail, cocking their head, or holding their one foot up. You can use the clicker for all sorts of desirable behaviors whenever you notice them without confusing your dog.
  • Put the clicker away when you are mad. Never mix leash-jerking, correction training, and scolding with clicker training. Your dog will lose confidence in the clicker and in you.
  • If you notice that you are not making significant progress with certain behavior, maybe you are clicking too late. Precise timing is crucial.
  • Don’t pressure yourself too much. Have fun! Clicker training is a great way to develop your relationship with your dog.

The Basics of Clicker Training

Clicker training is a popular form of positive reinforcement. When your dog learns that the clicking sound is something positive, the clicker will act as a conditioned reinforcer. When your dog learns to respond to the clicker, you can move on to the basic training and then the advanced ones.

Associating the Clicker Sound to the Reward

A clicker is not meant to replace treats. It tells your dog that what they have done is something you like and will earn them a reward. You can emphasize it by clicking immediately followed by treats. There are other rewards that you can use, such as toys. However, treats have always been the most preferred choice of trainers.

Clicker training is based on operant conditioning, which describes the way your dog learns from the consequences of particular behaviors. Positive reinforcement is a kind of operant conditioning that is often used in training dogs.

Start Training in a Calm Setting

Begin training with your dog in a quiet place without distractions. The training should also be done when your dog is hungry, so they’ll look forward to the treats more.

Introducing the Clicker to Your Dog

Press the clicker then give the treat. Repeat the click-treat exercise five to ten times.

Test Your Dog

Click when your dog isn’t paying attention. If they respond to the click by looking at you and then looking for a treat, you are ready for the next step. If not, you can continue the click-treat exercise until your dog associates the clicking sound with the treat.

Basic Commands

To teach basic commands to your dog using the clicker, press the clicker at the exact moment they do the desired behavior, then follow with a treat. Make sure you click at the right time, so your dog will not be confused as to what behavior garnered the treat. Accuracy in clicker training is important. When your dog realizes the association of the click to the treat, they will likely repeat the desired behavior.

Advanced Training

The clicker is also effective when it comes to advanced training. What you can do is click for small movements toward the behavior and then work your dog up to the completed, final behavior. You don’t have to manipulate your dog into position as it can slow the process. It needs to be done on their own.

Problems and Proofing Behavior

One of the most common mistakes when using the clicker is forgetting to praise your dog. While your dog has mastered how to respond to the clicker, they are also following to get praise from you. Do not ignore your dog’s needs for love, praise, and affection. If your dog’s food-drive is low or is not driven by treats, the clicker training may not be as effective. If you want to use clicker training for more advanced exercises, you need accurate hand-eye coordination and undivided attention so you can click at the exact time.

Related Questions

Do I have to click and give treats forever?

No. Keep in mind that clicker training is used to teach your dog new behaviors. Once they master the behavior, you won’t need the clicker anymore. Whenever you want to fine-tune an old behavior, or train your dog a new behavior, use the clicker.

I have a dog that has been trained traditionally. Is it possible to change to clicker training?

Yes, and there have been lots of positive feedback with the crossover training. Some say that their shy and hesitant dogs became creative and enthusiastic learners.

Final Thoughts

Clicker training has proven to be an effective method in teaching dogs desirable behaviors in a positive way. Positive reinforcement is an excellent way to train them. It gets rid of the pressure of other types of dog training.

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