Updated: Jan 22
Clicker training gives me a tool that I can use as an emotional re-set for the pup in any situation. Puppies learn so fast and so well. I build such a strong reinforcement history with the sound of that clicker that just the sound itself makes the pup happy. I use this tool a lot in teaching the pups to be confident in situations they otherwise might worry about.
If the pup is unsure I watch for the briefest opportunity to click and reward for a learned behavior, such as simply giving me his attention for a moment, and then click and reward. The pup snaps right back into that game-playing mindset where he always wins.
Now all is right with his world and positive learning is possible again because the pup is less fearful. This works like a mental reset for the pup. In situations like this what might have remained in memory as a lasting traumatic incident is quickly changed to just a speed bump along the way. This is powerful stuff and it is soooo easy!
Another way a clicker can be used is to “capture” a behavior. If you see your dog doing something you’d like to see more of, click and pay him! Gotcha! My dogs love these unexpected rewards. I’ve taken to carrying a clicker around in my pocket, and I pack my pockets with dog treats. Once a behavior is "on cue", meaning that I can ask for it, and this behavior is well understood, I can stop using the clicker and treats, but in the beginning this matters.
There are times throughout the course of my day that I’ll see a dog doing something really beautiful, such as choosing to sleep quietly near his donkeys or sheep. Click! Treat! Reinforcing a behavior increases the likelihood that it will be repeated. Training is about creating behavior – not stopping it. Think of these moments as random acts of kindness. They help your dog define what his job is, as you both see it, and they build confidence.
Working with a dog this way builds relationship and trust between you and your dog. Any animal appreciates feeling that they have some control over their environment. In most cases I think of knowledge as power; this is certainly true for puppies.