Q: Why is a clicker used as part of the training process?

A: On my DVD, The Dog Whisperer: Beginning and Intermediate Dog Training for Puppies and Dogs, you will learn how to train with or without a clicker. A clicker is a small plastic toy used by many dog trainers to clearly and crisply “mark” a dog’s behavior. It makes a cricket-like sound. While it’s optional, using a clicker can speed the training process.

Clear communication is the key. When training, you need to communicate and reward your dog virtually the same moment she does the behavior. You want to give your dog an immediate signal so she understands she has performed exactly the behavior you’re looking for. Normally our ability to respond verbally is simply not that fast or consistent. That’s why a clicker is used to mark the behavior. It’s distinct and very quick.

Initially the clicker has no value to your dog. You give it value or “empower” it by associating the sound with a food treat. Put it in your hand and immediately after clicking, throw a great food treat to your dog. Do two or three of these sessions during the day. You’ll know your dog has “got it” when she starts looking around for the treat after hearing the click. Now that the clicker has meaning, you’re ready to mark the exact behavior you are looking for. Eventually you will be able to stop using the clicker or food treats and just use praise or “life rewards” (chasing a ball, getting to go outside, etc).