More about Shaping and Clicker training

It is common to use a clicker when Shaping. With shaping your dog needs a clear indicator to be confident that the behaviour it is offering is what was expected.  The indicator also indicates that a reward is coming, this will help build your dog’s grit and focus.

The clicker, is what is commonly used as a marker; it is a highly effective way to communicate information to your dog for the following reasons:

  • The clicker has a sharp, consistent, and neutral sound
  • The clicker provides clear and consistent information that the dog has given the correct behaviour and therefore is right. As handlers if we use verbal commands, we tend to switch words or voice intonation
  • The clicker provides information that a reward is coming. Remember that the reward should be small and healthy.

Shaping requires skills that you will develop over time. However, remember that if you want to progress your dog should enjoy learning. The training session should be fun and not too difficult, it is all about playing games. With shaping each step toward the final behaviour should be entertaining and relatively easy.

The exercise should be easy enough that the reward comes quickly to keep your dog entertained and focused. If not, your dog may lose its confidence or become distracted, bored, or frustrated and will either give up or just offer a random set of behaviours. This also means that you need to adapt the difficulty of the exercise and the criteria to your dog’s focus and understanding of the exercise.

What if you do not have or do not like the clicker, how do you train?

Firstly, I would advise you to try and persevere with using a clicker; with time you may start to like it. However, if you really cannot or do not like it, it is not the end of the world. There are other options but from experience a clicker is often best.

If you do not want to use the clicker or do not have the clicker available at least use the verbal command “Yes”.

  • Yes, is short
  • Yes, is consistent
  • Yes, is handy when you do not have the clicker with you

I use Yes whilst I click during most of my training sessions so that when I do not have my clicker to hand or when I phase out the clicker, my dogs understand the Yes command as well.

Try to keep a consistent tone with your Yes command as your dog may interpret a low pitch or high pitch Yes command differently; this cannot happen with a clicker as the click is a consistent sound.

Using “Good boy/girl” or “Clever Boy/Girl” is a no go to mark a behaviour simply because we use it in too many other situations. The expression is therefore not a consistent marker. As it is difficult to get away from the “Good boy” expression (we keep on forgetting), I would advise you to say Yes first at the same time as the behaviour and then add “Good boy/girl”.

Introduction to the clicker

We want to teach our puppy to associate the sound of the clicker with a good experience.  And what better experience than tasty treats!

Spread a few treats around your puppy and click each time your puppy finds a treat; this will help your puppy to associate the sound of the click with a treat and get your puppy used to the clicker noise.

Do not click near your puppy’s ear! Stay away from the ears as the sound of the clicker is quite strong. Remember that and a dog’s hearing is far more sensitive than a human’s.