Operant conditioning is a scientific description of the way animals learn from the consequences of certain behaviors. In dog training, positive reinforcement is a type of operant conditioning that is commonly used. A system based on sound equals rewards, allows your dog to learn difficult skills, without the use of force or punishment. Your dog will learn to quickly identify what behaviors are desired and which are deemed unacceptable.

The clicker is typically a small plastic box with a metal strip inside that makes a distinct clicking sound when you press it. To teach a dog the meaning of the click, a treat is given immediately after clicking, resulting in the dog learning the positive effects of the sound. The click is more distinct than verbally praised commands and is much more effective than only giving your dog treats.

Where did this method originate from?

At sometime in the recent past, behavioral researchers including Norm Guttman, Marian Kruse and Keller Breland, in a laboratory, were among the first to understand the clicker method. They had realized that rats always stop what they are doing whenever they heard their food dispenser make a sound, which indicates its time to eat. Under the instruction of B.F. Skinner, they decided to try using a sound to correct behavior outside the lab, such as in dogs.

How to conquer the clicker:

To get things started, begin teaching your dog basic commands in a quiet area. Make sure to have ready a sufficient amount of your dog’s favorite treats. The treat should be small enough to be consumed instantly. Press the clicker and immediately give your dog a treat. Repeat 5-10 times. You can test your success by clicking when your dog is not paying attention to you. If your dog instantly responds to the click by looking in your direction, then expecting a treat, you’re starting to get somewhere.

At the exact moment your dog performs the desired action, press the clicker. Follow with a treat and praise. One of the best things about the clicker is the accuracy. The dog associates his action with the click and, subsequently, the reward. Not only does your dog better understand what he is doing, this also makes him more likely to repeat the action when asked in the future. This allows the training process to be totally hands-off, aside from treat giving.