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Training & Grooming

Clickerless: How to Train Your Pet Without One

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Two seconds into the lesson and I already knew I was going to like this client. She had a treat bag clipped to her waist, loaded with yummy bites. She also had a clicker on a lanyard around her neck and had already been practicing with it. She was eager to begin training her two littermate Cocker Spaniel puppies, who were ridiculously adorable.

The phrase “The clicker is quicker” came about because clicker training can get fast, reliable results. It’s a form of clear communication between you and your dog. The “click” indicates precisely when your dog does something right. Because you immediately follow that click with a treat, your dog learns that when he hears the click, he did something right. I was excited my client was already familiar with the method and we started right away. By the second lesson, however, it became clear the clicker was actually getting in the way of our progress.

My client was a senior citizen, and she had trouble pressing the box clicker in a timely manner. Some clickers are easier on the fingers, but we didn’t have any readily available. My client was also having issues wrangling a wriggly puppy, the puppy’s leash, treats and the clicker. Rather than continue watching my student get frustrated, I switched us to using a verbal marker. Instead of the click, we marked “Yes” when the puppies performed the desired behaviors. We immediately followed “Yes” with a treat. Success! Both puppies began to make progress.

Even though we were no longer using a clicker, we were still using the marker training method. “Yes” meant the puppy did something right, and he got a treat for it. I prefer using “Yes” to “Good dog” because it’s shorter. It’s more effective in marking a precise moment. Plus, we typically say, “Who’s a good dog? Are you a good dog?” all day long, so it’s not a unique phrase that indicates to your dog that he did something right at a specific moment.

Sometimes, Talking Is Easier

With situations like that of my client, a verbal marker can be more effective. This is true especially if you haven’t trained a dog before, or if it has been a while since you trained one. You’re trying to process information while juggling equipment, and that can be hard!

Another time I find the verbal marker particularly useful is for husbandry behaviors. These are behaviors you teach to help you care for your pet physically, such as holding still for eye drops or letting you trim his nails. If you’re holding a paw with one hand and using nail clippers with the other, you’ve run out of hands to hold a clicker. Verbal markers are much easier.

Some dogs are also afraid of the click. If you have a dog who is frightened of loud or sharp noises, it might be better to work with a verbal marker.

Which Is Better?

Clickers are consistent. That click is the same no matter who is using it. If you have several members of your family who all want to train your dog, the clicker might be a good option. The marker will be consistent among all trainers. There are a variety of clickers on the market, from traditional box clickers to ring clickers to ones shaped like animals.

Verbal markers can vary a bit depending on different voices, so they are a bit less consistent. On the plus side, they are often more convenient than using an additional tool.

So which is better? Experiment with both and see which one suits you best. Use your marker consistently and correctly, and you’ll be able to get quick results in your training. 

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

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