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How to use clicker training to teach your dog

And an alternative if your pup doesn’t understand clicker training.

If you’re starting to train your pup and have been searching the web for ways to encourage good dog behavior, you’re in the right place. You can try a method called clicker training at home without the help of a trainer. 

“Clicker training is a commonly used positive reinforcement training method in which a desired behavior is ‘marked’ with a click followed by a reward,” Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, says.

How to clicker train a dog

Puppies generally start clicker training when they’re 12 weeks old, although they can start earlier or later, Dr. McCullough says. Clicker training uses markers, aka a sound or visual signal your dog recognizes, to let your pup know when it’s time to do the desired action. In most cases, it's the click sound of a hand-held clicker.

“Clicker training can be used to treat basic obedience commands like sit, lay down, paw, touch and with mat training, which is teaching your dog to settle on a mat on command,” Dr. McCullough explains. “Clicker training can also help discourage unwanted behaviors, such as barking and jumping up on people.”

Let’s say you want to teach your dog to sit. Here’s how Dr. McCullough recommends using clicker training: 

1. Every time your pup sits on command, use a marker (like the click of your clicker) and then reward them with something they enjoy, like treats, their favorite toy or playtime.

2. Repeat this step multiple times (this means more treats for your pup, too!). 

RELATED: How to stop your dog from barking — if you should at all

How long does it take to clicker train a dog? 

According to Dr. McCullough, when your dog understands that the marker means a yummy treat is coming, they’ll likely catch onto clicker training quickly. The key to successful clicker training is regular practice (and tell your family members to be consistent, too!). If your pup isn’t grasping clicker training, you could try using positive words as markers, she adds. 

There are some things you should never do while clicker training your pup, though. 

“Punishment shouldn’t be used for any type of training. It can lead to aggressive behavior and make anxiety worse,” Dr. McCullough shares. “Training should be a fun and enjoyable ‘game’ for dogs. If your dog becomes anxious during training, take a break or change the situation or environment. Go back to well-established commands and try again another time.”

Consistency is vital in clicker training your pup, and remember that giving your pup a treat with every marker will help your dog pick it up quickly. 

“A wonderful trainer I worked with once said the marker is like a check you write. You must pay!” Dr. McCullough encourages.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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