The clicker is a super powerful tool that can help us get the most out of any behavior we teach the dog. The following video will introduce you to some concepts in the science behind using a clicker.
CHARGE YOUR CLICKER
We want to create the most powerful response your dog can possibly have to the clicker. This will allow us to apply that same enthusiasm to other obedience cues and behaviors.
We want your dog to RUN TO YOU to get food WITH ENTHUSIASM when they hear the clicker. Your dog's best response to their obedience commands is only as good as their response to the clicker. If they aren't excited to respond to a marker that means come to me to get food...then we have some work to do!
Once your dog has a conditioned response to the clicker (they reliably run to you to receive food when they hear it) you can begin to "charge your clicker with dynamite" by occasionally JACK-POTTING your dog with large quantities of food (or even their entire meal!) . Make sure that sometimes you give them one or two pieces, sometimes you give them more, and sometimes you JACKPOT!
This is called a "variable reward schedule". When the dog can't predict whether they will get a small, medium, or large reward it causes a spike in DOPAMINE (the feel-good chemical in the brain). It's the same science behind why gambling is so addicting. Once we've turned our dogs into little gamblers we will start to see the dog perform obedience and behaviors with POWER and ENTHUSIASM in anticipation of the reward after the clicker.
**If you're really nerdy check out THIS VIDEO which deep dives into the science of dopamine jackpotting**
My dog responds to my voice, do I really need the clicker?
Short answer: No. The clicker isn't the end all be all tool in dog training. However, it does some things that your voice alone cannot do and science guarantees that a properly conditioned clicker will undoubtedly make your dog's obedience faster, better, and stronger. Here are some things to consider if you're on the fence:
1. The clicker makes a distinctive and salient sound. Whereas our dogs hear our voice all day everyday, the clicker ONLY has value when presented with food. This makes a much stronger connection in the dog's brain.
2. The clicker sounds the same no matter what. When we are really happy about the dog's performance it sounds like, "CLICK!". When our dog does something sloppily or we are less impressed, it sounds like, "CLICK!". As humans, we have a harder time hiding emotions in our voice and our dogs can pick up on that easily.
3. Studies have shown that dogs do in fact respond more quickly to the sharp distinct soundwave a clicker makes than they do to the soundwaves produced by a human voice.
Will I always need to use the clicker with my dog?
Nope! In fact, our goal is to get our dogs responding to our verbal commands with the same enthusiasm, precision, and speed as they respond to their clicker. In the beginning, we will use it very often - but we will eventually fade it out. Later when our dogs have more advanced obedience it's good to pull our the clicker and make sure it's still "charged with dynamite".