DEAR PAW'S CORNER: What is the value of training dogs using a clicker? I have tried using a clicker to train my dog Atlas, but he didn't listen very well. When should I click at him -- when he's misbehaving? Or when he's doing something right? And how can he tell? -- John H., Springfield, Massachusetts
DEAR JOHN: Clicker training, or "mark and reward" training, can seem almost magical in terms of how quickly and enthusiastically a dog learns. But that magic only happens when it's being done correctly.
Basically, you press the clicker device when your dog does precisely the thing that you are trying to train him to do. And you follow up immediately (like, within a second) with a reward -- usually a little bit of a treat. So, here's how it is done:
-- Decide on one behavior that you want your dog to learn in your training session. Start with a basic behavior, like "sit," "come here," "lie down" or "give paw."
-- Give Atlas the command. If he doesn't follow the command, don't click.
-- As soon as he follows the command, click once and give him a little treat.
-- Repeat the process again and again until he follows the command immediately.
By associating the clicker noise with a command and a reward, Atlas will quickly build a positive association with the command. This works for many types of training, from basic obedience to agility to job-specific commands. But you start with just one command at a time.
Also, consider working with a trainer, either one on one or in a group training setting. You'll pick up many training skills quickly. It's worth the investment. Send your tips, comments or questions to
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