Most dog trainers recommend the use of a clicker to train a dog. This is a simple device that produces a clicking sound if pressed. The idea is that your dog will quickly understand that each time he hears a click, he will get rewarded. This way you can mark the exact behavior you want your dog to repeat with a click, which is easy for your dog to understand. The click provides a bridge between the reward and your dog’s behavior. A click promises a reward even from a distance or with short delay and encourages the dog to think and figure out what you want, so he will actively participate and enjoy his lesson.
In the beginning a clicking sound will mean nothing to your dog, although he may look up to see what is making the noise. You need to teach him that the click is positive, rewarding, and worth responding to.
Start by showing your dog that you have treats, so you have his attention. Hold the clicker in one hand and the treat in the other. Click and treat. Keep repeating this, aiming to click when your dog is looking at you. You can try throwing a treat on the floor, clicking once just before your dog eats it. Keep repeating.
If your dog already knows a trick, you can test if he understands that click equals reward.
If he can sit on command for example, say sit, click as he does so and reward once he is sitting. Move away; repeat the command, click, reward, and so on.
Once your dog understands that the click always means a reward, you have a vast array of possibilities at your finger tips. Simply wait until a natural behavior happens, like a leg stretch or a head shake, click, then give him a treat. Your dog will soon try to recreate the action that resulted in the reward. For example, if he does not know how to sit on command, be ready to click when he sits down naturally. Repeat the next time and so on. Your dog will soon make the connection. Once he does, add a voice command.
A few tricks to know:
– Only click once at one time even if you give lots of treats.
– Add a voice command only after he understands the trick.
– Always reward your dog after a click but have him guessing how many treats he gets and when. Sometimes give him a handful for doing particularly well and occasionally ask for two or tree repetitions of a move before rewarding.
– Don’t always click at the end of a behavior, as this will teach your dog to always stop at this point. For example, on circle moves, sometimes click after half a revolution, sometimes after one and a half circles.
Source: Dog Tricks by Mary Ray and Justine Harding