10 tips to improve your clicker training

Clicker training is GREAT for dogs, cats, and horses. (And even lobsters and goldfish!) With clicker training, animals learn fast and are generally more interested and engaged in the training process. However, like anything else, clicker training is a skill.

Being skilled at clicker training takes time and practice. Here are 10 tips that will help your clicker training skills go from good to great:

1. Play the Shaping Game
Find a clicker and at least one other person. Take turns training each other to perform simple behaviors such as turning on a light switch or opening the fridge. Take turns being the trainer and trainee. You’ll improve your shaping skills and learn how an animal feels during training!

2. Videotape Yourself
Set up a video camera and record your training sessions. You’ll be able to better track your progress and analyze spots where you are getting stuck. If possible, get another trainer or friend to watch your videos. They’ll see things that you missed.

3. Have a Well Defined Plan
It’s easy to get in trouble or get stuck if you haven’t mapped out where you’re going. Decide what you will and won’t click for. Plan each step towards your goal. Think about potential problem spots and know before you start what to do in each of these situations.

4. Train Another Species
Think you’re a great dog trainer? Try training a goldfish, cat, hamster or horse. Training other species will expose some of your weaknesses and ultimately improve your training skills. Bob Bailey trains animal trainers using chickens and Karen Pryor makes trainers in her dog trainer academy train at least one other species in order to graduate.

5. Improve your Mechanical Skills
Much of clicker training is mechanical skills, such as food delivery and clicker timing. You can work on improving your timing and accuracy without your animal. For example, watch the news and try to click whenever anyone says the word “today.” (More exercises and tips here.)

6. Learn from Top Clicker Trainers
Identify several trainers who you think are at the top of the field. Watch videos, attend seminars and workshops and read books. Go to conferences such as ClickerExpo. Figure out what top clicker trainers are doing, what works and why it works. I really enjoy watching Kay Laurence, who has lots of free videos on her youtube channel, ladstwo.

7. Reevaluate and Expand Your Reinforcers
Sometimes trainers get into a rut of always using the same reinforcers. Expanding the types of reinforcers you use can add variety to your training sessions. Also, evaluating your reinforcers using the principles of DISC can help you make your reinforcers more effective.

8. Find a Clicker Training Buddy.
Find someone you can bounce ideas off of. Someone who will help you discuss goals, celebrate successes and brainstorm about any difficulties you encounter. You’ll learn too from their ideas, progress and stories about their own animals. This could be someone you train with in person or even someone you keep in contact with online or by phone.

9. Train in Short Sessions or Take Breaks
Train in shorter sessions or add breaks to longer sessions. You can limit your sessions based on time (such as 5 minutes) or number of treats (such as 20 treats). Breaks give you time to evaluate how the training is progressing and decide whether to continue or change what you are doing. Shorter sessions are easier to intersperse throughout a busy day.

10. Teach Someone Else about Clicker Training
Can you explain the hows and whys of clicker training to someone who is unfamiliar with the concept? Can you help someone get started and help them troubleshoot through any difficulties? You’ll have a solid understanding of what you are doing if you can explain it to others. If you’re still learning yourself, see if you can find a trainer who will let you help out or assist with beginner classes.

Now it’s your turn!!
What are some of your favorite tips for becoming a better clicker trainer? Leave your comments below, and I’ll publish the best ones during the first week of November.

This post is also available in Italian at Alfadog.it.

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