Clicker training - opinions from dog people

Over a period of a few months both our elderly greyhounds passed suddenly of separate causes and long story short we did not grieve long are now the one week owners of a Miniature American Shepherd* puppy, Augie, now nine weeks old. He’s sweet and cute and eager to learn.

The breeder (who is a vet) was big on promoting clicker training, which apparently has become more widely popular since we last had young dogs in training. We never did much training with our greyhounds, who we got at about age two eleven years ago - they were happiest with no job to do and nothing to learn and sleeping on the couch most of most days. Sit, Down, Stay, Come, Shake, and heeling on leash was as far as it went. So the last was with our whippets, one of who overlapped with our greyhounds for a decade until he died at 16 a couple of years back.

We’ve not been great yet on working on “loading the clicker” (which she advised doing right away) and think we are going to wait until puppy class starts over next week end and hear if the instructors there tell us to do that too. Enough to get down housebreaking, going up and down stairs, learning fetch and give, and the basics of socialization in the first two weeks I think.

So have SD dog people used clickers much? Is it worth the effort of loading the clicker? This is a dog that will only be happy if we are always training it to learn new things, so training, both in classes likely through open and/or agility, and just fun tricks at home, will be a very regular thing lifelong. If it really helps training then we’ll start it up soon but I’m … surprise … skeptical.

Did I say he’s very cute and sweet and smart? :slight_smile:
*An odd thing that official AKC name as there is no full size “American Shepherd.” This breed was developed in America by breeding for relatively small sized Australian Shepherds and are probably more commonly called “Miniature Australian Shepherd” … but of course Australian Shepherds were never really from Australia, but created from various shepherd breeds here in America, parttly associated with Basque origin shepherds that came by way of Australia … and the bigger size Aussie folk did not want the name shared … so Mini American they officially are. He’ll likely be about 16 inches high at the withers and 25 pounds.

Clicker training is great. “Loading” the clicker will be a very quick thing for your pup, because it will be reinforced with every click+treat (which is how you do it, always a treat following the click.) The secret is that the treat doesn’t have to immediately follow the click. Just soon after. This is really really good for training a down or a sit at a distance. Click as soon as the dog does the sit/down, then approach and treat.

You won’t be using the clicker forever, probably, but I hvae to say, I think dogs love it because they essentially get two bursts of pleasure, one when they hear the click and know they’re getting a treat, and again when they actually get the treat. But with the clicker you can signal the exact moment he models the behavior you want.

Another secret: The treat doesn’t have to be very big. A minuscule treat is still a treat. A jackpot is for a great performance and consists of treat after treat for 30 seconds or so, but each individual treat can be small. You don’t want a fat dog.

PS “Effort” of loading the clicker? You get the clicker out. You click it and give the dog a treat, then do it again. Clicker loaded.

Realy? The association is made that fast? I was getting the impression from the breeder that this would be several times a day of click-treat ten times or so for a week or so before the association would be useful in as a conditioned stimulus.

Depends on the dog, but it took about four clicks for my puppy.

I’m a qualified clicker trainer.

Most of us don’t bother loading/charging the clicker any more. Just start!

Good luck with your pup. I didn’t realize the breed had been AKC recognized, I see it was in 2015. A big change from your sighthounds!

Clicker is great for teaching dogs to do things they wouldn’t think of to do on their own (tricks, obedience commands etc.). It has limitations, like all training techniques. Like all “positive” methods, it works only if your reward is greater than any other reward in your dog’s immediate environment. For example you can’t use clicker to train your dog not to chase cars (most herding breeds have a strong tendency to chase moving objects). In general, things you don’t want your dog to do need a different technique. Aussies (they are just bred-down Aussies, the Aussie people had fits about the name Miniature Aussie so they named them something else) are exceedingly bright active dogs. Never happier than learning new ways to be helpful to their team.

Clicker is a wonderful tool but you’ll need a lot of different tools. Have fun!!

Clicker training is a type of operant conditioning - a psychological method training desired behaviors in subject. The theory behind it was developed in part by BF Skinner and was initially used in training pigeons during WW2. It was later adopted by the Navy’s dolphin program.

Clicker training works by presenting focused, positive reinforcement for a specific behavior. The click means, “YES! Do that specific thing right there!”. It hinges on the fundamental Skinner Box interaction - “If I press this lever/do the thing, I will get a treat”. This makes it ideal for creatures who can’t handle negative reinforcement, like fragile pigeons, or clever and cooperative animals like dogs & horses.

Note that the “treat” can vary from creature to creature. Some are motivated by food, some by a special toy, some by brushing, etc.

Also note that the “click” can vary as well. You can use a whistle or a certain word, for example, or a snap fingers. The “click” just has to be something specific and consistent.

My current dog hates clicker training. He cowers and shivers when I use a clicker near him. He’s a rescue and I assume this is some remnant of his original owners. I tried using it a couple times and then decided it was too late to change his mind on the subject. I decided to just go with spoiling him rotten. It’s … had mixed results but when I got him he was constantly terrified and it broke my heart. At least he no longer expects people to beat him.

In general, I’m a big fan of clicker training and would have pursued it with my dog if he had responded positively.

As for OP’s puppy - since you’re starting classes next week, I’d suggest waiting until you’ve met with your trainer. While he’s in classes, you’ll all want to be on the same page.

My cat didn’t take that long! I clicker-trained my 3-year-old cat (using tongue clicking as a clicker - I’m too lazy to carry around a physical clicker) and it took only a few minutes for him to catch on.

I can now induce my cat to jump over a horizontal pole on command (with the pole about 3 feet off the ground) and do less impressive tricks like jump up on things on command and touch his nose to a wand. I don’t know how well cats do with verbal commands, so I use hand signals.

I heartily endorse clicker-training for both dogs and cats. You just need an animal that is interested in food.

I’ve used a clicker with dogs in the past; it worked fine. I gave up because I was forever misplacing my clickers, and so I switched to using my voice instead.

There’s nothing special about clickers, per se. The key to dog training is consistency; [Dog Behavior X] results in [Outcome Y], consistently (or in clicker training, [Dog Behavior X] results in [Bridge Outcome Z] which in turn results in [Outcome Y], consistently). A clicker just happens to be one method of promoting consistent responses in the dog handlers. Assuming you’re working with a “normal” dog, most of dog training is really about training the human handlers, not the dogs. The dogs, consistently motivated, tend to catch on pretty fast.

I imagine clickers could be used effectively. I’ve never perceived a need to use one with my golden retrievers, but they are quite different from your new dog.

Also, any approach is only as good as the user. I admit I have a little dislike for clickers because I’ve known 2 owners who were absolutely incompetent with them, and their dogs horribly behaved. I’m sure you will not make that mistake, but some people think that the clicker itself is some kind of magic.

My personal preference is to use my voice/hands/body language - which I will always have with me. As opposed to a clicker which I might misplace or someone else might not have. But that is just my non-professional preference.

Boy, are you in for a different experience, going from a couple of older greyhounds, to a young herder! Good luck!

I agree with Caldazar and Dinsdale, FWIW. Rather than using a clicker, I use a verbal cue.

The main thing with your new dog, I think, will be keeping that brain busy. Try short, frequent training sessions, and lots of exercise. If there is a puppy class near you, consider joining that. You might learn a few things, but more importantly it’s a great way for the pup to start socializing.

I must now formally remind you of The Rule - pics!!!

Same thing with my parents’ new dog!! She was a rescue who was found wandering the streets of Brooklyn and she *hates *the clicker! Clicking at her makes her stop what she’s doing and run away, I have no idea what happened to her for the first 2-3 years of her life.

But for the previous dog, who we got as a puppy, the clicker worked excellent.

(post shortened)

Clickers are for dog owner/trainers who can’t whistle, or snap their fingers, or say “Shssst”. The object of the clicker is to train the dog to associate the click with a specific action. Small treats work just as well. The secret of successful dog training is for the dog trainer, and the dog trainer’s family, to be very, very, very, consistent with the training.

Rule number 1 - In order to train a dog, you need to be smarter than the dog. :slight_smile: Otherwise, the dog will be training you.
Corollary - Dog training is often the art of teaching the dog owner a few tricks. The dog will do fine on its own.

And be realistic, you can’t train a dog to do something that they can’t normally do. You can’t teach a dog to play the piano, at least not in key.

Actually, some research indicates clickers are a more effective bridge than a verbal marker. It’s main benefit is the consistency of tone, volume, duration, etc.

I’m not saying other bridges don’t work, just that the clicker has a purpose, and serves it well. I’ve seen it myself, once people are trained to use the clicker right, they wield it with better, more consistent timing. And timing is everything in training.

Well since you asked! This is my first time trying Imgur, yeah for puppy pics.

Hard to get him still long enough to snap one.
Advice heard. We will wait for the start of puppy class this week end to stay on the same page with the training. But unless they object likely add it in as a tool. Thanks for the input!

Yes a big change from the sighthounds and I acquiesced to this with some hesitation being more cognizant of the commitment this dog requires (lots of exercise both for his body and brain every day) than my wife was I think. Our greyhounds were quirky with the male a real goofball but they required little of either. Like most retired racers they were couch potatoes to an extreme.

Aw, he’s adorable. And he has a tail!


And re tail: Yup. And it wags a lot too!

(For those who do not understand, the breed “standard” is for naturally or surgically docked tails. He’s a pet and we want the tail.)

I’ve seen people use clickers in strange ways. Like clicking at the dog to try to make it sit.

But for the standard approach, I’ve never seen it not work in my limited experience.

What a cutie! :smiley:

I think so too …

Questions -

When did clicker training take off so widely?

And given that the breed is in fact just bred for somewhat smaller size Aussies, often called Miniature Aussie, officially known as Miniature American Shepherd, but that there is no regular American Shepherd that it is miniature of, except that the Australian Shepherd probably should have been called that … how do I answer people who ask what breed he is? (So far there has been a surprising to me amount of the time that I am telling people that no he is not a Bernese Mountain Dog pup - somewhat similar markings.) I really don’t want to be longwinded.