Can a Clicker Stop Your Dog's Bad Behavior?

Sep 19, 2022

Solving problem behaviors using a clicker is insanely rewarding and very effective. Don't believe me? Well here's a quick little story.

I was working with a tiny little dog, maybe 15 lb. The owners wanted to do classes but the dog would shriek every single time it saw another dog. They had brought the dog to the dog park as a young pup and it just loved other dogs so much it would forgo any kind of focus or treats simply to get to another dog. Unfortunately, they did not have the time or the wherewithal to work with their dog at home and burn their energy so they had to go to the dog park to burn their energy despite my best efforts. 

So we couldn't change that and manage the situation. What were we going to do? Well, we pulled out the clicker and we just rewarded the dog anytime it stopped freaking out seeing another dog. I know what you're thinking, that's going to take too long. Well after about 12 clicks the dog had stopped completely. Now every new training session was slightly different and every new dog was slightly different, but if “12 clicks” was all it was going to take and we click every 3 to 5 seconds, that's a minute. That means in less than a minute our dog can be accustomed to other dogs. The more we do that the faster that's going to get. If the first 10 dogs are a minute then the next 10 dogs might be 45 seconds. The next 10 dogs are going to be 30 seconds. This process will quicken and become more reliable over time. 

That's exactly what happened. With the effort that they put in within the month, they were in a private class of 10 other dogs. Interestingly enough though the dog would work and focus as long as the clicker was out and once everything was put away and it was time to leave for the end of the class the dog would get excited and bark a little. We then focused on that.

Can a clicker really stop behavior problems? Absolutely! You simply have to think about the behavior as just a behavior. The more we put on the emphasis that it's a behavior problem and that our dogs are doing it out of spite, or because they're bad, or any other false excuse you want to make up the less likely we are to break down the behavior and teach them an alternative one. Think about jumping. We get angry at our dogs for jumping because we think that that's normal dog behavior and it is. But it would be as simple as teaching our dog to sit. Once you understand how to teach a behavior well and under distractions, you can teach your dog to respond to any nonverbal cue such as people walking in the door to mean sit. 

That means that your dog can sit on cue without you saying anything and prevent them from jumping all at the same time. That is amazingly effective when you're using a clicker because you don't even need to be next to your dog to do it. Simply mark and reward them every time they stop jumping for a second and increase the duration they have to have all four paws on the ground over time. Once that's down you simply start teaching them to sit from a distance. You could tell them to sit, the person walking into the house could tell them to sit, or you could wait for them to offer up the behavior. Once they offer the behavior mark and reward and the process is smooth as peanut butter.


What about aggression? Can you stop aggression using a clicker? You absolutely can, it just takes a little more effort. Now as I just mentioned it's all just behavior and that's how I want you to think about it. The only reason it's "scary "behavior is that its aggression. If you and your dog are experiencing aggressive episodes please contact one of our trainers or a professional in your area so that you can have guidance through this tough time. It is stressful and it is difficult if you don't know what you're doing and you don't know what to look for. 

Let's take resource guarding for example. Every time I get close to my dog they growl at me. What am I going to do? I'm going to stay outside the threshold of what my dog can handle and I'm going to mark and toss a treat to him. Over time they're going to start associating me with a good feeling and high-value rewards. This means I can slowly get closer and closer because I'm building their trust. If I were to go in and try to fight them they're going to have less trust in me than they did before. Since they didn't have trust in me in the first place, they were guarding things so I would only be making the problem worse. In this way, I can actually be at a distance and I can mark/ reward for my dog slightly moving away from the ball or sitting down completely. With a clicker, you have the option of training your dog at a distance that is safe for you and puts your dog at ease when distances are their problem.

Good luck, stay training and I'll see you in the next article.

-Michael J. Accetta




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