I do not do a lot of clicker training myself, but I recognize its benefits.
I also know many of you prefer clicker training to other training methods or would at least like to learn more about it. (Clicker training works well with my cat Beamer!)
I reached out to two professional dog trainers and asked them about some of the most common mistakes or misunderstandings they see when it comes to clicker training a dog.
If the rest of you have any additional mistakes or ideas to add to the list, please do so in the comments.
If you’d like to order a clicker, check out Mighty Paw’s clicker here.
Common clicker training mistakes
Mistake #1 – Using the clicker as an attention-getter instead of a marker.
One mistake people make when clicker training is using the clicker to get a dog’s attention instead of using it to mark a behavior, said Jennifer Mauger, a professional dog trainer with L’Chaim Canine.
“They click when they want the dog to come to them or when the dog is distracted,” she said. “This defeats the purpose of the clicker. It should be used as an event marker. It marks the moment the dog is performing the correct behavior.”
Mistake #2 – Poor treat delivery.
While you want to use a treat to reinforce the click, you shouldn’t move your “treat hand” until after the click, said dog trainer Beth Mullen with Dog Latin Dog Training. You don’t want the dog to be focused on your “treat hand.” You want him to be thinking about what gets him the click.
“Click, pause, then move your hand,” she said.
Another issue is that some dog owners will automatically point the clickers at their dogs like a remote, Mullen said. It’s better to hold the clicker at your side.
Mistake #3 – Assuming the dog is food motivated.
“For some dogs, food is not a big motivator,” Mauger said. In those cases, you should pair the clicker with what does motivate the dog such as a toy.
“I have worked with a couple of German shepherds and border collies that were far more motivated by a ball than food,” she said.
Now, let’s move on to some of the most common misunderstandings about clicker training. Again, feel free to add your own ideas to the list in the comments.
Common clicker training misunderstandings
Misunderstanding #1 – All those treats will make your dog fat.
Obviously when you’re using lots of treats or other food for training you need to factor that into your dog’s daily calories.
Mullen made the point that eating out of a bowl is not necessary for dogs. It’s convenient for humans. She said it’s OK to use some of your dog’s food throughout the day to strengthen the behaviors you want.
Misunderstanding #2 – Clicker training is only for ‘easy’ dogs.
Clicker training is used for all kinds of dogs, Mauger said. It’s a concept used by some professionals to work with dogs with severe behavioral problems such as aggression or separation anxiety.
She said people don’t always realize clicker training is based on sound science. It’s not some sort of “gimmick.”
Misunderstanding #3 – Clicker training is only for teaching tricks.
Sure, clicker training can be used for tricks, but it’s also used to train high-level military, police, search & rescue and service dogs, Mauger said.
Mullen said clicker training is also being used to teach marine mammals, zoo animals and more.
“So many wonderful, successful animal trainers use marker training,” she said.
What are some other clicker training mistakes or misconceptions?
Let me know in the comments!
Lindsay Stordahl is the founder of That Mutt. She writes about dog training and behavior, healthy raw food for pets and running with dogs.