Clicker Training Pros and Cons: How Effective Is It?

Clicker Training Pros and Cons. Photo of a dog ignoring the clicker.

There’s more than one way to train your dog. Some go with the traditional route of commands and treats, and others go with the idea of a clicker. Interested in learning about the deceivingly complex world of clicker training? Here are some pros and cons to keep in mind!

Clicker training has pros and cons to it, both for dogs and humans! Pros for clicker training include an easier understanding of what the rewarded behavior is and ease of hearing the click in multiple environments. There’s lots of research out there on the topic to guide you, too. Cons for clicker training include difficulty in adapting — for humans and doggos — and that it isn’t useful for correcting bad behaviors and training. Still interested in learning about whether clicker training is good or bad for you and your dog? Keep reading!

What are the pros and cons of clicker training?

Depending on your approach, your dog, and your relationship with him, there are some seriously good things about clicker training! A full list of pros include:

  • Easier connection between the behavior and the reward
  • Faster training overall
  • Easy sound to hear in multiple environments
  • Can be used by multiple people

Easier connection between the behavior and the reward

A dog learns to obey you by understanding what you’re looking for him to do. That is, as much as we claim otherwise, a dog doesn’t understand “sit” as “sit on your bum-bum and wait for me”. He understands “Sit” as a gibberish command (Same as his name would be a command) for “If I put my butt on the floor, I get a nom-nom”. Huh? Enough with the baby talk? Okay, we get it. Anyways, you see the point, right? The dog connects the click and the treat as the reward for sitting.

If you give him the treat without the click, he may not make the connection between the treat and action, making it harder for you to get him to sit again when you give him the same command with no treat in sight (more on this later).

Faster training overall

A clicker is also great for helping speed up his training as well! In fact, research suggests that it actually can speed up the training timeline itself (more on this in a bit). So, whether you’re working with a puppy or an adult, this can be a huge positive to steer you towards clicker training!

Easy sound to hear in multiple environments

Where a human voice telling him “good boy” or “yes” may differ in tone, inflection, emotion, and more, a clicker is a mechanical noise. It’s the same tone, volume, and overall sound every single time — it’s different. So, used as positive reinforcement, it’s unmistakable and easier for your pet to “find” amongst the distractions in new environments.

There’s also the fact that we use these command words all the time in regular conversation and it can confuse your dog if he overhears you. We’ve all had the misfortune of saying “walk” and our dog goes nuts because he thinks he gets to go for a walk, right? Or maybe “squirrel”.

Can be used by multiple people

As long as the clicker is used consistently from person to person, more than one person can train your dog using a clicker. In a busy household with kids, extracurriculars, and general life, this can be helpful since everyone can take a share of the load.

There are some cons and downsides to clicker training for your dog, though, that you’ll want to understand in deciding whether or not it’s right for you and your doggo. The full list here would include:

  • Has to be used consistently and properly
  • It can’t be used to stop bad behaviors or training
  • It takes practice to get right
  • It isn’t a replacement for treats or positive reinforcement

Has to be used consistently and properly

A clicker is actually a very precise instrument that must be used properly (more on that in a bit!)  to make sure that the dog is understanding what it means and how it relates to his behavior. This means that every trainer has to use it the same way, every single time to prevent confusion. This can be challenging in a household with kids.

It can’t be used to stop bad behaviors or training

A clicker is not a remote control. If your dog is barking, you can’t click at him and expect him to stop. The clicker is not, in and of itself, a command. In fact, it’s more than likely going to teach him that barking is a good thing! While you can use the clicker, this example, to teach him what he should be doing, it isn’t a mute button on a remote to get him to stop.

It takes practice to get right

The clicker itself is a pretty tricky piece of equipment. Before you even think of training your dog using it, you’ll have to train yourself — yes, really — how to use it so that you can click at the exact right time (this is very important, as you’ll learn) every single time that you want to use it. You’ll also have to learn where and how you want to use it!

It isn’t a replacement for treats or positive reinforcement

You can’t use a clicker to replace a “yes” or “good boy” or a treat. The click is combined with a treat or positive cue so that your dog associates both with a positive behavior that they’re doing. So, you’ll still need to take out a loan to get more dog treats, we’re afraid!

Is clicker training more effective?

All things considered, research suggests that clicker training is more effective with a verbal command (“Sit”, for instance). When paired with positive reinforcement such as a “good boy” or a treat, it takes less time for a dog to learn what the positive behavior is when compared to training with just treats or with positive reinforcement combined with the command. The conclusion, here, is that the clicker is an easier signal for the dog to understand, and it still has to be used correctly!

How long should you use clicker training?

When you are training your dog, you should use a clicker until the dog connects the command to the behavior without hesitating. Once that’s done, you can switch to a random reinforcement. This means that sometimes you’ll click and treat, and sometimes you won’t. You’ll have to ease your doggo into this gradually, of course, but using random reinforcement is much more productive (and cost-effective) than clicking and treating every single time!

That being said, some things will always require a clicker. For instance, if you choose to click train when getting a dog to allow you to brush his teeth, get his shots at the vet, or handle his ears, etc., these tasks can change and adjust so much, that you may always have to use a clicker to make sure he obeys you. As with a lot of details with dogs, take your time, and see what feels best for you and your dog!

When should I stop clicker training?

There are a few times in which you may decide that clicker training just isn’t’ working for you or your dog — which happens! — and you need to switch methods. The most likely situation that will have you turn to other training ways is that either you or your dog has a strong negative reaction to the sound. If the sound scares or disturbs either of you, it won’t be a good training tool! You can try a few clickers to see if another one is better, but if they scare or upset him, try another training method.

The other reason to stop clicker training (temporarily) is if you find that it is reinforcing the wrong behaviors! In this case, you most likely are using it wrong and you’ll need to take some time to figure out how to do it the right way to get the behavior you’re looking for! 

Can you use a clicker to potty train?

Yes, you can use a clicker to potty train your dog! Potty training is actually one of the best ways that you can use a clicker (especially if you’re still getting used to it). The steps involve:

  1. Set up a designated pee space, and take your dog there. If you have some soiled pee pads, rub them in that spot for extra clarity!
  2. Watch his behavior. Right as he starts to pee, tell him the command, and then click and treat when he begins to finish his pee. 
  3. Repeat it in this order (and especially in timing) until he starts, essentially, going on command. Be very consistent with the timing! The more consistently you click, the faster he’ll learn!
  4. As he adjusts and adapts to the training, you can replace the treat with positive reinforcement and even the clicker. From thereon-in you can just use the command and he’ll go as you trained him to do!

How can I use a clicker to retrain bad behavior?

We mentioned earlier that you can’t use a clicker to stop bad behavior, which is definitely true! As we said, it’s not a remote button that will get him to stop barking on command.

You can use a clicker to help him understand what’s better than barking, though. For example, he’s barking at a squirrel outside and you tell him “quiet” or “enough”, etc. the first few times, he won’t stop or understand. If he stops for a second to listen to you, though, click and treat him. As he starts to learn that stopping when he hears your command is a positive behavior, this will retrain him. 

After a while just the cue will be enough, paired with the positive reinforcement, to get him to stop barking when you tell him to. You can do this with any behavior you’d like to train! But, remember that the click is a positive sound linked to doing something right. It should never be used to get him to pay attention to you or stop doing something!

Dog looking up at his owner with a clicker trainer.

Tips for using the clicker properly

If you want to make sure that you are being a responsible clicker, here are some great tips to remember to help you make the most out of it!

A click should be given (ie: clicked) when the behavior is happening, not after it’s complete. Your dog needs to understand that the behavior is good, and the click signals that for him.

A clicker should always be paired with a treat or positive reinforcement. Don’t click and not give him his reward! However, you can give him positive reinforcement without the clicker, if you wish. But, the click and the treat/reinforcement must always go together in that order when using the clicker itself!

Practice with your clicker before you try it out on your dog! You must learn how it works, and how to get your timing just right (when out of your dog’s earshot) so that you can put it into practice with timing properly!

Clicker training has pros and cons, but it is a commonly practiced training tool amongst dog owners of all kinds! If you want to make it work for you, these tips and reminders will help you make the most out of it!

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