The first thing I do before I can use a clicker to train my dog is to do what we call ‘charge’ the clicker.
Why Charge the Clicker?
When we ‘charge’ the clicker we associate it with treats. The clicker works as a conditioned reinforcer, it reinforces or increases the behavior that is happening when it is heard. In order for it to do that it has to be conditioned, if it isn’t then it is just a meaningless noise.
How I Go About It
I get a bunch of small, tasty, soft treats and a clicker. I use soft treats so the dog can just swallow them without needing to chew. Small, smaller than a dime (even smaller for little dogs), because we will be using quite a few and I don’t want the dog to get full (or chubby).
- I hold the clicker in one hand and some of the treats in the other
- Click the clicker.
- Move my hand to give the treat. This is important, the click sound comes before I move my hand to give the treat. The sound needs to predict that a treat is coming, if I am moving my hand already the dog already knows the treat is coming and the sound becomes unimportant.
- Sometimes I hand the treat to the dog, sometimes I drop it or toss it a short distance. (I help the dog find the tossed treat, if needed, by tapping my toe next to it).
There are a few things I pay attention to while I am doing this. I don’t want the dog to always be sitting, so I will click before they can sit (many dogs already have learned sit for treat, this is different). The dog will be doing behaviors while I am charging the clicker, so I will click a few of them. Usually it is looking at me, or turning back towards me after eating a treat.
I might do a couple sessions of charging the clicker. It depends on the dog, but I consider the clicker ‘charged’ if the dog quickly turns to look at me after they hear the sound with an expectant, woo hoo I’m getting a treat look.
Some dogs are afraid of the sound of a clicker. If it scares your dog, stop! You can use a softer sounding clicker (like the i-Click) or you can turn a regular box clicker into a quieter one. Get some electrical or medical tape and cut it into little pieces. On the metal part of the clicker there is a round ‘dimple’. Place the tape over the dimple, layer on top of layer. It will end up having a lump of tape on it. Try it out and see if it is quiet enough (if you put enough tape on it, it will be very quiet). After using it this way for a while, you can gradually remove a layer of tape at a time until your dog doesn’t mind the louder sound.