Clicker Training – Overview by Niki Perry

Introduction to Clicker Training

What is clicker training?

  • System of teaching that uses positive reinforcement in combination with an event marker (clicker).

What is positive reinforcement?

  • Providing a consequence desired by the student, in exchange for their actions which are desired by the instructor.

How does the process of clicker training work?

  • Trainer watches for desired behavior
  • Trainer marks the desired behavior with a “click” while the behavior is occurring
  • Trainer reinforces the desired behavior – deliver the reward within 1 second of click

What is a marker?

  • The marker or “clicker” tells the student that they have done what the trainer is looking for, and lets them know that their reward is on the way!
  • The clicker is used to teach new behaviors only – once the behavior is learned, the clicker is no longer needed.

Clicker Mechanics & Fundamentals

Click then treat:

  • “It’s essential that the animal recognizes the click as an independently meaningful signal. Therefore great care is taken to ensure that the sound of the click occurs in a sort of “stimulus void.” – Kathy Sdao
  • Count out 10 treats and place them on the table. Draw a circle on a piece of paper to act as your “target.”
  • Practice clicking and delivering the treat to a target within 1 second after marker


  • Place your car keys and your clicker on the table, side by side. With the same hand knock your keys off the table and attempt to pick up your clicker and click before the keys hit the floor.
  • Bounce or toss a tennis ball click either when ball hits the floor or at the highest point of the arc.

Time to Add a Cue

  • What is a cue?

    • A stimulus that signals a behavior (example: “sit” or “down”)
    • A way for the trainer to ask their student for a specific behavior at a specific moment in time
    • An opportunity for the animal to perform a behavior that they know has been positively reinforced & gives them a chance to earn more reinforcement.
    • Cues can be anything the animal perceives. Examples:
      • Verbal (words or sounds)
      • Visual – body movement (hand signals), object (target), open door
      • Other cues – smell, vibration, location, physical element in environment (curb means sit)

Four key skills to cuing a behavior:

Choose an appropriate cue that is:

      • Easy for the trainer to keep consistent (same hand, same voice etc)
      • Perceivable by the animal
      • Distinct from other cues the animal already knows
      • Not confused with praise or other meanings
      • Easy to transfer to others
    • Determine when to add the cue in the training process
    • Name the behavior or add the cue
    • Teach the animal to notice and wait for the cue – so animal only performs the behavior when the cue is given.

When do you add the cue?

    • If you add the cue too early in the learning process when teaching a new behavior it would remain meaningless to the animal
    • When training by lure:
      • If you have phased out the lure and the animal is offering the behavior correctly 80% of the time, you can add the cue
    • When training by capturing:
      • Time your trials with a stop watch. Keep track of the number of times you click and treat your dog for the correct behavior within a given time period (Measure the rate of reinforcement)
      • When you are clicking and treating 10 times per minute, you can add the cue
    • When training by shaping:
      • You can use either of the guides for cuing listed above

How do you add the cue?

  • Just before the behavior starts, you give the cue
  • Click the behavior as its starting, don’t wait until it’s over, reward. Give the cue again as soon as the animal finishes eating. Repeat sequence 10 times.
  • If your animal responded correctly to the cue 80% of the time or greater, you can add a pause in between the eating of the reward and the next cue (instead of cuing right away).
  • If your student continues to offer the behavior even when you aren’t cuing it, do nothing. Wait for a pause, give the cue again, click & treat the correct responses.


by Niki Perry, CPDT-KA, KPACTP, CEMT, Release the Hounds Board Member

Niki’s website: The Beloved Beast


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