Pet Training: Why the Clicker is Quicker
PetSmart Debbie McKnight/ Accredited PetSmart Trainer
One of the most important aspects to training your pet is timing. In order for your pet to understand what you are trying to communicate, you need to provide them with feedback within one second of the desired behavior. How do you give your pet positive feedback this quickly? Use "markers." Proper use of a marker will not only increase the speed at which your pet learns, it will buy you about four to five more seconds to reward your pet.
A marker, simply put, is a word or sound that “marks” the correct behavior for the pet. The most common marker is a clicker, a plastic noise maker you can get at your pet store. Some people prefer to use a word or verbal marker like, “Yes!” While it may seem that using a verbal marker would be the easiest choice, it is not usually the best choice. Your pet is used to hearing your voice all the time. The clearest communication comes from a short, novel, and consistent sounds. Even though it will take more coordination on your part, it pays off to get comfortable using a clicker. Don’t worry that you won’t always have it with you. You only need markers in the learning phase of a behavior. Once your pet understands the behavior, you no longer need a marker. You can just praise and reward to maintain the behavior.
So how do you teach your pet what the marker means? Easy. Pair it with treats.
- Grab your clicker and 10-15 tasty treats.
- Take your pet somewhere with no distractions (the bathroom is good for this).
- Then, with your pet in arm’s reach, click, THEN treat. If your pet doesn’t look at you, don’t worry; just pop a treat in his mouth. To make sure that your pet understands that the sound (whether a click or a word) predicts a treat, pause for about half second before you give him the treat.
- Be ready with that treat. If your hand is busy fumbling around with the treat, that’s what your pet will be focused on.
- After about 10 clicks-and-treats, your pet should understand their marker, but if you're unsure, wait until he is looking elsewhere and then click. You'll know whether or not he understands the marker if he looks back at you as if to ask, “Where’s my treat?”
Remember, the clicker or verbal marker marks the CORRECT behavior for the animal. Therefore, it cannot be used to get the animal’s attention. Also, if you click, you must treat; otherwise, the marker becomes useless. With a clear and consistent marker and good timing, you’ll be amazed what you can teach your pet!
Debbie McKnight is an accredited PetSmart trainer in Hurst, Texas.
For information on PetSmart's Accredited Training, please visit PetSmart's training web site.