In the beginning it was not as important to focus on specific technique or what is known as "clean training". All you needed to know was get behavior-click-reward. As your goals become more advanced, you will want to clean up your technique. Follow these rules and you will be a better trainer in no time:
Basic Clicker Training Rules
- Zenith popularized the saying "Quality goes in before the name goes on". In dog training this means we get the behavior exactly the way we want it before we attach a cue to it. So know your goal for the behavior before you start training.
- Remember, the click always means a treat is coming – even if you clicked mistakenly. It is important to protect that association, so your dog can rely on the training promise. You can always clarify what you wanted with later clicks.
- If your dog is distracted by a new environment or challenging conditions, "prime the pump" by doing 10-20 rapid fire click-n-treats. It does not matter what your dog is doing – this is about getting his/her brain in the game. This is the only time you can have treats in your hands as you click.
- Keep food in your treat bag or a container while you are training. Food in your hands may be "handy", but it also encourages your dog to watch your hands.
- Keep the treat bag out of sight when you are training (turn it around to the side or your back), so it is not an obvious cue to the dog. You should also wear the treat bag at times when you are not training so the dog is not overly aroused by its presence.
- Keep your hands in a neutral position until AFTER you click. Reaching for a treat as you are about to click will cause your dog to focus on your hands. If you click when your dog is focused on your hands, you are saying that is what you want and it may interfere with the behavior you are actually trying to teach.
- Practice clicker training techniques without your dog:
- Click & Deliver – Starting with your hands in neutral position, you will click, reach and get a treat from your bag, place the treat in a cup, then return your hand to neutral. Time this and see how many times you can do the sequence in sixty seconds. It can be challenging to do this rapidly and it takes practice. Have someone observe you for technique or videotape yourself so you aren’t unintentionally reaching for the treat too soon. Fifteen repetitions in sixty seconds is a decent score; twenty repetitions is excellent.
- Clicker Timing – Have someone bounce a ball or toss a ball in the air for you. Your goal is to click when the ball reaches its highest point. You can also watch TV and click every time a tennis ball or basketball bounces. You can even click every time the newscaster says a common word like "and".