I Am a Clicker Convert

Our very first obedience class – it feels like decades ago – Shiva and I were introduced to the clicker. I was suspicious of this tool. It felt unnatural in my hand. I knew I would look like an obnoxious idiot in the street if I used such a thing in public. I didn’t want to become one of those dog trainers. Whatever that means.

I’d seen others around, clicking and yelling and jumping around. They all looked nuts. They all looked like crazy dog people with their sneakers and their over-sized sweatshirts. I wanted to train my dog calmly and quietly. I wanted to look cool while doing it.

Clickers, apparently, were not cool. Clickers were for inexperienced newbies. I had read books. I didn’t need to resort to clicks and other silly noises.

So we used the clicker in class only. But as I had zero practice I wasn’t very skilled and kept dropping it on the floor. Holding the treats, the leash, and the clicker was too much for my un-coordinated body. I could never get the click in fast enough. Our patient instructor eventually gave up and told me to use a word instead, like “good.”

Incredibly relieved, I put the clicker in a drawer and never looked back.

Until now.

A little while ago I attended a dog training seminar put on by some local trainers. They did a few demonstrations with shelter dogs. Dogs that had no training at all. With the use of a clicker, one trainer was able to get both of these dogs to lay down on a mat within minutes. I’d known before how a clicker helps dogs pick up on new behaviours so much faster but I hadn’t seen an actual demonstration for some time. It inspired me to dig ours out from under the pile of junk and give it a shot.

Since my wardrobe today consists of jeans, zip-up sweatshirts, and sneakers, I guess I no longer care about looking like a crazy dog person. May as well add the clicker to complete the look, right?

After one session, my mind was fully blown. Seriously.

I have been trying to teach Shiva to retrieve her leash for the last year and a half. Until now, I haven’t even been able to get her to look at it. But after maybe six minutes of training with the clicker, here is where we are at now:

Clicker training rocks. I am officially converted. I can’t believe I’ve been wasting so much time! Why didn’t anyone tell me?

60 thoughts on “I Am a Clicker Convert

  1. Welcome to the clicker club!

    Shiva is so adorable. I love how her tail was going the whole time. She was even holding the leash a bit longer at the end of the video! Great job!


    • Aww, thanks! It’s so hard to get the timing right. I want to make sure to click at the precise moment before she drops it. It’s not easy!


  2. You’re such a good trainer we’re glad you didn’t use the clicker all this time. If you had, I think Shiva would have already taken over the world.

    We need a little transition time to get used to our new doggie overlord.

    BTW, you might find a clicker with a wrist coil helpful. You put the coil around your wrist and if you drop the clicker it stays close.


    • LOL. I wish I could take the credit. Shiva is just a super easy dog to train. She loves working and learning (ie. earning treats) so much that she makes it simple. If I had a lower drive dog I know the holes in my ability would show a lot more! I figure our future dogs will either be very lucky or very screwed.

      I didn’t know they made them with wrist coils. I’ve just been using the free one we received from class. Our agility trainer actually has invented a clicker leash, which is pretty cool. I’ve never used it but perhaps I can con her into giving me a free one to review on the blog…


  3. Too bad a clicker can’t be heard 100 yards out. Might beat screaming “good dog” while field training. 🙂 Shiva looks like she is really coming along. I just loved the video.


    • I wonder if it out be possible to attach a small microphone to the clicker so it could be used for long distances… It may be a pretty cool little business!

      Thanks for your encouragement!


    • There are some great videos and websites online dedicated to teaching people how to use the clicker. You may not necessarily need to hire someone. It’s all about timing. And that, really, you can only attain with practice. That’s kind of what I like about it. The clicker is so user-friendly. You can’t really mess it up. Unlike other training methods…


    • Definitely. That was my problem too and why I just stuck with using a word for so long. With Shiva, it worked, but I realize now how much easier it can be with a clicker.

      Really, though, you have to use what works for you!


    • I imagine they sell them in stores – though honestly I have never looked. We just use the free one we were given. There must be some cool varieties out there!


  4. I was turned off from the clicker pretty early in my dogs’ training. Bella was terrified of even a muffled click when I brought her home.

    When I got Daisy I met some not-so-nice clicker trainers and their whole attitude turned me off of trying to learn how.

    Luckily, since then I’ve met some great clicker people and I use a clicker with Daisy. She does learn a lot faster!

    Free Shaping exercises are a lot of fun and all the thinking helps wear out a dog. You don’t even have to do them with the goal of putting anything on cue. Just sit down, work together and see what happens.


    • That’s a different thing completely. If your dog is super-sensitive to sound, you have to alter it a little. It’s all about using what is motivating and what makes your dog comfortable.

      It’s awful to me that clicker trainers actually turned you off! The whole point is that it is a positive experience. Positive for the human and the dog. It sounds like those people didn’t get that angle, which is a shame.

      I love shaping and have used it since the beginning. I love that I can be super lazy, just sit there on the couch and get Shiva to do all the work. 😉 The clicker just adds to the fun!


  5. Kristine, that is awesome! I have a clicker, but admit I’m not 100% sure on how to train Delilah with it, so I barely use it. Our trainer doesn’t like the clicker so I have had no training with it. Lately I have been thinking of trying to find some clicker training classes.

    Thanks for the video, Shiva is adorable and I love how she absolutely adores you.


    • Have you checked out Karen Pryor’s website? She has some great tips and suggestions for using the clicker. I linked to it above but you can find it here: http://www.clickertraining.com/ It might help get you started.

      Thanks for your kind words! I don’t know if it is me Shiva adores as much as it is the treats! 😉


  6. Okay, first I must say I literally lol-ed at the ‘sneakers and over-sized sweatshirts’ comment! I am far from being any sort of fashion guru, but that is definitely something I’ve noticed.

    I’ve never used a clicker, but I am impressed with your speedy success.


    • I know, right? Our agility classes are full of them. I try to be cool but it’s only so long until I join their ranks. Oddly enough, I don’t even mind that anymore. Which may show how much I have been brainwashed! 😉


  7. Great job Shiva! The “boy” has clicker trained several of our foster dogs fairly quickly, but I have not given it a shot. I should probably do that….


    • It is fun, almost a dog training high. There is nothing more exciting than watching Shiva pick up on a trick. It’s just the coolest feeling!

      Pauley is super smart and I am sure he’d take to it immediately!


  8. Aw, that’s so cute. Loved the video! I’m with you on the clicker. I’m not really converted to it. Actually I haven’t even tried using a clicker. But I sometimes mark the behavior with “good!” I should really just get over it and try the clicker. Thanks for the post 🙂

    I have a few behaviors I’ve been trying to teach my dog for quite some time and we aren’t getting anywhere. I’m sure this would help him understand what I’m trying to tell him.


    • I normally use “good” as well. That’s how we’ve taught pretty much every single behaviour Shiva knows. While I think my timing has improved over the last two years, it is so much easier to click at the precise moment than it is to say the word.

      It’s worth a shot, right? What do you have to loose? Let me know if you have any success!


    • Meh, whatever works for you. It’s not a vital tool, just something that can make it faster and more fun for the human. But your dogs have a pretty fantastic life either way!


  9. Way to go Shiva!

    I have a clicker, but not sure what the sequence should be. Do you give the command and if the dog does it, click and reward? What do you do if the dog doesn’t do the command?


    • Sue, the idea behind the clicker is to mark the behavior you want before you even put a “command word” to it. You get them practicing the behavior on their own and then add the word to the end if you wish, but they need to understand what you’re asking before you mark it with a word.

      It’s really good for building on behaviors like kristine will do most likely. A simple break down would be, click for a sniff of the leash… click for a mouth of the leash. click for a mouth and lift of the leash. click for an extended hold of the leash etc etc. Shiva ended up skipping a couple steps most dogs would have to take first, but you got with the dog and how fast they put it together.

      So short answer is you ignore until they do the desired behavior you are looking for, or at least a building block of it… sometimes people will “lure” with bait to get the desired effect while they figure it out. A lot of luring will get often cause the dog to not think as much on their own, case in point my dog Luna.
      Hope that helps, and kristine kudos to you. I have a hard time thinking up tricks to teach, i really should invest in getting one of those silly dog trick books as it would be a hard reference.
      Keep us updated on your progress


      • Thanks for the great advice, Anna! Very helpful. I did originally click and treat when Shiva looked at the leash and then moved towards it, but she learned that so fast I didn’t bother showing that. I was just stunned how quickly she was picking it up when before I couldn’t even get her to bat an eyelash towards the leash.

        We lured a lot of Shiva’s original tricks because we didn’t have the experience. But lately shaping has become our central approach. The more we do it, the better we all get at it, including Shiva.

        I definitely recommend a trick book for ideas. It was one of the things I asked for at Christmas! Kyra Sundance has put out some fun ones that break it down very easily.


    • I agree with Anna, she gave some good advice. Clicker training basically involves waiting for the behaviour you want to see.

      For instance, if you are training a dog to lay on a mat, you first click and reward when the dog looks at the mat. There is a great explanation of shaping techniques on Whole Dog Journal, found here: http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/9_3/features/Dog-Training-Equipment_15792-1.html

      Like Anna said, you ignore any behaviour you don’t want, and reward any behaviour close to what you eventually want to see. It teaches the dog to think on her own. With an operant, super-drivey dog like Shiva who is very used to offering behaviours, it looks easy. But I am lucky that way. Any dog can do this, it just takes practice for both the human and the dog.

      Hope that helps!


  10. You guys kick butt! Impressive how quickly it worked. I’m with you, I feel awkward and out of place with the clicker, but I keep meaning to pick one up and give it a go. You and Shiva and your fabulousness will only inspire us more!


    • I still feel awkward at times, and I have yet to use it outside the house, but the more practice I have the better I get. Like everything else, right?

      Thanks for your kind words!


  11. I love the clicker especially for shaping exercises. We have been using it pretty heavily while trying to train the wobble board and teeter. But, I seriously lack coordination to click, hold leash, treat etc!

    Love seeing Shiva videos. Such a cutie!


    • I do too! That’s why I’ve only used it inside so far so I don’t have to worry about the leash getting in the way.

      If you are interested, our agility coach has invented a clicker leash that makes it a little easier: http://www.clickerleash.com/index.php I am thinking of trying it myself!


    • It’s not? Are you sure? So I still only have myself to blame if it doesn’t magically make Shiva do back flips?

      Dang. 😉


  12. We have never learned the clicker, but are open to the concept. However, from experience I can say learning to use new tools/ideas has two important concepts presentation and readiness. Sometimes you are in the right frame of mind, but you just don’t see it in a way that helps you process it. Sometimes you have a wonderful presentation, but you aren’t ready. Every so often it just comes together and you realize you found a tool/method that works.


    • That’s true. Now that I have so much more experience, perhaps the clicker works better for me than it did back then. Back when I cared more about not looking like an idiot. 😉

      I firmly believe in training what works for you and your dog. It’s supposed to be about having fun! If it’s not fun, you are doing it wrong.


    • LOL. Shiva patterns a little too well, sometimes. If I reward for a certain behaviour too long, it can be difficult to get her to offer anything new.


    • Thanks! I am pretty excited too! One my tool in my Shiva-training arsenal! We’ll get this tornado leashed yet! 😉


  13. Clickers ROCK! I’ve trained so many dogs with them!

    I did a lot of close-in work with Elli with the clicker to begin with and now she may have to be re-introduced to it. She responds a lot better to my voice, interestingly enough. It could be my timing is off, though. Your timing is awesome in this video!

    I can’t wait* to see what else you can accomplish with Shiva and the clicker! (Free)shaping is amazing: look up 101 Things to Do With a Box. 🙂


    • Thanks! Timing is so hard. I am always worried I am not getting it exactly right. Perhaps the years of using solely my voice have helped with that. With the clicker it’s just that much easier. But I know I am not always perfect. What can you do?

      I love free shaping and box games! We do it all the time. Great for a rainy day!


  14. I’m amazed at how many people commented that they’d never used a clicker:) It’s a wonderful tool, and that’s all it is, a tool, not a magic wand. Shiva learns things so quickly that you’ll probably run out of things to teach her soon. And she is so focused, I envy you. There are many wonderful videos on clicker training on Youtube and if you get some spare time check out Kikopups channel. Emily is awesome. So are you and Shiva:)


    • *sigh* Another person who believes the clicker has no magical qualities… I was hoping I’d be able to be a lot lazier from now on. Someone should really invent something that trains dogs without any effort on the human’s part. 😉

      Oh wait, they have, and it sucks.

      Thanks for the suggestions! I love watching dog training videos. Thanks for you kind encouragement!


  15. Ha ha, Cali just heard the clicker and jumped up like “what do you want me to do??” Treats??”

    Shiva is so cute – welcome back to the easy peasy world of clicker training 🙂


    • LOL. Now that is an operant dog! Go Cali!

      Thanks! I can’t believe I made it. My former self is probably horrified. 😉


  16. I am a big believer in clicker training, but had never tried it until I started volunteering at the shelter. Amazing progress was made! I continued using it with some of my puppy clients with a lot of success as well.

    However, there are some dogs that are scared by the clicker (Daisy and Jasper and their friend, Henry) and in those cases using the word “Yes” worked just as well.

    I think the key is using what works for your dog. Clearly, Shiva is quite a smart little cookie!


  17. Wow that’s awesome! I might just have to give that a try with Dante! Just because he’s a major couch potato/lap sitter doesn’t mean he can’t learn a few more tricks. Or non-tricks, like not jumping on mama when she’s carrying his bowl of food over to him.


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