Clicker Training

Search the websites of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers or International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) for a trainer or behavior consultant near you, if you need help training these or any other behaviors.
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Is your dog afraid of the clicker?

It’s not unusual for some dogs to have “clicker aversion,” especially with box clickers, as they make a loud, sharp sound. Start with the clicker behind your back, or in a pocket, to muffle the sound at first. If you’re trying to clicker train your dog and he or she seems to be worried about the sound, please stop using your clicker immediately. Some dogs show few signs of discomfort before suddenly running from the room when the clicker is presented; others look increasingly uneasy with every click. Better to stop sooner rather than later, as the problem is harder to fix if your dog has developed a phobia.

Next time you’re ready for a training session, start with your dog in a different location using different treats, no clicker in sight. Give a quick “smooch” sound with your lips instead of the clicker… if this worries your pup for some reason, just switch to the word “Yes” instead. If you’d like to go back to a mechanical clicker, try to find one that makes a softer sound, or even use the top of a click pen. Don’t attempt to reintroduce the clicker, however, until your dog has had a few weeks of non-clicking clicker training!

Surprisingly, dogs who are bothered by the sound of the clicker at home seem to cope perfectly well in a class or an environment where the other dogs are getting clicked.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Anton Novoselov

Use ‘Hide Your Eyes’ for better control of your dog in public

The point of the above exercise is to teach our dogs to face away from distractions on cue. In the above example, I’m teaching Marty McFly to “hide his eyes” between my knees. Once he has learned the behavior, I can request this anytime a potential distraction comes along, to keep his focus on me. This is an excellent tool to use as a warm-up for arrival in a public place, setting up an automatic response from your dog to turn and look at you when you get out of the car.

Once he is offering the behavior on his own, without the use of a hand target, I can drop the hand target altogether and only click and treat those responses which happen on cue. The cue can be “Hide your eyes,” “Hide,” “Focus,” “Here” or anything else you like. Feeding him in the correct position allows me to extend the behavior bit by bit, as I can gradually lengthen the amount of time he waits in position before I reinforce with a treat.

This behavior takes just a few minutes to shape, and with a little practice you can have one more tool for obtaining focus and control from your dog in your toolbox.