First Steps in Clicker Training

Using Rewards


Food is a seriously important factor influencing many aspects of your dog’s life. Dogs are opportunists designed to spend most of their day hunting, scavenging and generally wondering about the next meal. If sex is not on the agenda then food certainly is.

We feed them regularly to relieve them of the anxiety of going hungry, but this doesn’t stop them valuing food very highly. Dogs have no problem overeating. “Live for the moment”, you can always throw up, bury it and eat it later on!

So we use food for two purposes:

  • it acts as a strong motivator
  • it adds pleasure to our training

Types of food

The training food needs to be:

  • tasty, with a strong smell to motivate
  • small, thumbnail sizes for an average size dog
  • easily handled and stored
  • gone in 3 seconds

From practice and experience we favour pre-sliced sandwich meat. Chicken is the favourite with ham, sausages or cheese as reserves. Hard cheese can be chopped up into small cubes and squeasy cheese is ideal for small dogs and puppies. Cooked liver and heart is something extra special. Save the favourite food for times when the results need to be the best, ie classes, competitions. Use the second best and reserves for every day use.

Clicker training happens throughout the day, we do not reserve it for “special times” so food needs to be prepared and easily accessible. Remember to adjust your daily meals rations to compensate for the extra protein and fat.

  1. Food is delivered NOT taken. Do not let the dog “take” (or snatch) the food. Control the reward and you control the dog. Deliver it in your own time.
  2. Deliver food safely. Avoid letting your fingers become part of the meal. Feed as you would a pony from the flat palm of your hand. Be safe and encourage safe habits for the dog.
  3. Small lessons. Keep the learning in small “sweet” lessons not over filling the dog with too much in one go. Only 10-15 treats each time.
  4. Vary the delivery. Direct from your hand or tossed to the floor or thrown for a catch or placed on an object.

Using the Clicker

The clicker is a simple “noise maker” that is very consistent, unemotional and audible.

Test your clicking skills away from the dog. Using your thumb, press the end away from the tab.

You will get two clicks - one on the down press and one when you release. “Tick tock”. This is referred to as “a click”.

To begin with use your strongest hand to lure, signal the dog and toss the food, and your other hand for the clicker.

For the very sensitive dogs that jump at the sound, place a lump of Blu-tak over the dimple of the metal tongue.

1. Click marks the behaviour.

    Whatever you want your dog to repeat, the click will mark that behaviour - paying attention, responding to your call, sit for greeting visitors, shaking a paw etc.

2. Make a promise

    For every click there will be a reward. It will be noticeable, and within 4 seconds.

3. Avoid the dog’s ears

      The click is audible at quite some distance, which makes is uncomfortable and painful when clicked near the dog’s ears.

4. Treat it with value.

      Do not “click away”. It is a precious sound your dog will yearn to hear, since it represents an important part of their understanding, willingness and desire to learn.

5. Make it heard, not seen

      Do not click AT the dog. They learn better if listening for the click rather than watching for your hand clicking at them. No “remote control” syndromes!

Lesson 1

Set up the class room. Find a comfortable chair, or sit on the floor with small dogs. Have your clicker in one hand and your treats within reach of the other hand, but make sure they are only within your reach, not the dogs!

  1. Place a treat in the centre of the palm of your hand.
  2. Offer it to the dog, and click as the dog eats the food.
  3. Repeat this several times.


  • You do not frighten the dog with the noise of the clicker. Keep it subtle.
  • The dog politely waits until you offer the treat, you are not mugged. If they become a tad over keen, close your hand, and only open it when they show some manners. If you find your fingers being chewed, stand up and raise your hand out of reach.

Up to this point the dog is associating the palm of your hand with some good, and at the same time as eating something they hear a noticeable sounds, the click. If there are no problems continue on.

  1. This time offer the dog the palm of your hand, without the treat.
  2. As the dog sniff your palm, click and reach for the treat.
  3. Feed the dog from the palm of your hand.

The process has now changed order. Initially food was used to explain the behaviour to the dog: “sniff the palm of my hand”. The action of sniffing was instantly rewarded on the job.

Now we have separated the sniff from the reward, and after the action is completed, rewarded the dog. The clicker marked the action that earned the reward.

  1. Once the dog has been successful over 10 repetitions, begin to vary how far the dog has to move to sniff your hand. Ideally the first sniff is just a head move, but the next batch of 10 may require the dog to take one step forward.
  2. When the dog can take a step towards the food, begin to vary the direction: to the left, to the right, up a bit, down a bit.

The dog should now be happily looking for you to present your hand. Make sure it is a clear “flourish”.

Build the learning slowly, in the next sessions you can stand up after the first batch of success. Begin with a slight over lap between each session, so that you revise the last few successes before progressing onward.

Perfect progression will depend on how small you can make each step forward in their learning. It should be so miniscule that the dog hardly notices you are changing it each time. If you take one step too large, the dog will hesitate. Just go back to the last success, and finder a simpler route of progression.

Probably this is one of the hardest skills people find to learn: breaking down progression so that it is easy for the dog.

That’s why we have classes - either virtual or real!


07 February 2017

PO Box 13, Chipping Campden, Glos. GL55 6WX.

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