Why Clicker Train Your Pet?
Clicker training is a positive reinforcement technique that involves using a sound to train pets to do or not to do a behavior. The training is accompanied by a reward to motivate your pets to do the intended behavior.
Clicker training can also help to stimulate the pet’s mind and help correct behavioral issues. These are issues that may be caused by boredom, anxiety, fear or frustration. It also helps to improve the bond between you and your pet as they learn to follow your commands.
Clicker training can be used on a number of different animals, not just dogs. Dogs are always going to be the easiest to train to follow commands, but birds can be taught many things as well. Cats just by their nature are going to be more difficult to train than other pets.
Things You Need
- Button Clicker – a plastic device that produces the click sound. Check and see that the clicker makes a unique sound and not something that your dog or cat or bird is already familiar with. A unique sound will ensure your pet can differentiate the sound of the click from common sounds like a bell ring or doorknob. Clickers are available at most local pet stores or online.
- Rewards – Food treats, toys or sponge balls. Not all pets may like the same thing for rewards. It’s best to find something that your pet really likes and use this as the reward. If you want to give them treats to eat, make sure it is not the normal treats that you give them. The treat must be unique and only given when clicker training them.
- Target stick or chopstick – For cue training. This one is optional because most people will just use their finger and point to indicate what they want done.
How to Clicker Train Your Pet
Introduce the Clicker
To train your pets, they first need to be introduced to the clicker. For them it’s something completely new, and at first they won’t understand what it’s for. You’ll need to demonstrate it for them a few times to help them associate the sound with good behavior. The ‘CLICK’ sound needs to be immediately followed by a treat. The treat will act as a positive reinforcement to motivate your pet to do the desired behavior.
To start training, keep a bowl full of treats and sit with your pet. Keep the clicker in one hand and a few small pieces of treats on the other hand. Make the ‘CLICK’ sound and immediately give the treat to your pet. Again make the ‘CLICK’ sound and give them the treat. You may have to do this several times to help your pet associate the sound of the clicker with the treat. For birds, you can start clicker training them inside their cage.
Keeping your pets attention while training can sometimes be difficult. Some pets might start off interested because they are receiving treats. Others might just be confused about what you’re doing and only interested in receiving treats. If you find your pets confused or only that they’ve lost interest, stop the training for a while and try again later. Keep the training sessions short in the beginning because pets like cats and birds have low attention spans.
One way to keep them from only being interested in eating the treats is to not let your pets eat directly from the bowl.
Repeat the same training for a few days and soon your pet will associate the ‘CLICK’ sound with the treat. Once they recognize the ‘CLICK’ sound with a treat, you can move on to behavioral training.
Identify the behaviors that you want to encourage your pet to do and make the ‘CLICK’ sound every time your pet does the correct behavior.
The easiest way to start is to teach them something easy first. This will let them understand what the clicks mean before you try to teach them anything difficult.
Start with training them to sit. To do this stay close to your pet and watch them move around. Keep the clicker and treats ready and make the ‘CLICK’ sound immediately when your pet sits. Simultaneously reward them with a treat.
Initially your pet may not understand what is happening but repeat the ‘CLICK’ sound and give them the treat when your pet sits again. Slowly it will help them get used to it.
Make sure you time the clicker at the exact moment when they sit so it will help them to associate the ‘CLICK’ sound with the behavior of sitting. Do this a few times and your pet may start sitting on their own and expecting a treat from you. Make the ‘CLICK’ sound and offer rewards when they do it.
You can repeat this for other actions as well. Make the ‘CLICK’ sound every time they do the action and reward them with a treat.
If you want to prevent your pets from doing a behavior, just ignore it when they do the activity. Wait for them to do something you want them to do and then ‘CLICK’ and reward them with a treat. It will help them understand what behavior is expected of them.
For example, if you see your cat using the scratch posts, make the ‘CLICK’ sound and give them a treat but if they scratch something else like furniture or appliances, just ignore them. Wait for them to use the scratch post then ‘CLICK’ and reward.
Similarly you can use clicker training to prevent your birds from screaming. If you find your bird screaming, wait for them to stop and then ‘CLICK’ and reward. Do this a few times and they might scream less, expecting the reward from you.
It may take a while for your pet to understand what is right and what is not. You just have to be persistent and time the click correctly. If you accidentally make a ‘CLICK’ sound when your pet does a behavior that you do not want, you should still give them the treat. The ‘CLICK’ sound should always be followed by a treat because that is what encourages them to do a behavior.
Following the Cue
After your pet starts doing the behaviors you want and understands the ‘CLICK’ fairly well, they should be trained with a cue. A cue can be:
- Verbal cue: sound-based commands like Sit, Stand, etc.
- Sight Cue: holding your palm or a target stick.
Try to give the cue a second before they do a behavior. It will help them associate the behavior with the cue. It can be a little challenging to start with but after a few times it should be easier.
For example, you might have trained them to sit by using the clicker. When you see your pet is going to sit, give the cue ‘Sit’ and immediately make the ‘CLICK’ sound after they sit and then offer the treat.
Work on establishing the Cue
Behavior – Click – Treat pattern.
The motive is to help your pet hear a cue and do the behavior or act.
Gradually start giving the cues slightly more ahead of your pet doing a behavior. It will help them follow the cue and complete the activity.
Just like a clicker, it may take some time for them to learn the cue but continue training them. Ideally start with one behavior and then move on to the next behavior. After a few days, you may find them following your cues without having to use the clicker!
What if My Pet Doesn’t Like the Treats I Give Them?
You can try changing the treat to something else or try giving them toys. Some pets may be happier getting a toy or praise and affection as a reward rather than getting something to eat. Every time you make the ‘CLICK’ sound, reward your pet with a toy, praise or affection.
Can Clicker Training be Used to Control All Behaviors?
All pets are different and it is difficult to say if clicker training will help to control all their behaviors. It’s possible that your cat or rabbit will follow the clicker command for certain behaviors and not for some others. The only way to know this is to be persistent and see what works.