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Sunday, 8 January 2012

Clicker training is no treat

Hello Dogs Today,

I have recently taken on a young rescue collie cross, Ben. We're not sure how old he is exactly, about a year the rescue thought, and we don't know much about his background as he was picked up as a stray, but expect he was mistreated as he cowers when anyone is holding a mop or duster etc and he doesn't like loud or sudden noises (although noise-sensitivity may not have anything to do with any possible mistreatment).

We're attending basic obedience classes at the moment as if he had had any training, he needs a refresher! I also have an older rescue Lab, and when she came to live with us four years ago I introduced her to clicker training as she is bright and I wanted something fun to keep her mentally stimulated. I have tried to introduce Ben to clicker training but he is scared of the noise! I have a clicker where you can reduce/increase the volume, but even on the lowest setting he cowers at the noise, but then comes straight back to me for a treat. I discontinued using the clicker immediately and only tried it for three or four clicks before stopping.

I'm wondering what to do, has anyone else had this problem? I'd love to get Ben enjoying the clicker but don't want to try it again in case it upsets him again. Should I wait until he's been with us a bit longer and build the trust and then try the clicker again? (We've had him since October and began training classes - where clickers aren't used - two weeks later.) Or should I just give up on the idea? Are there any alternatives to the clicker that will help with training and provide mental stimulation, but not scare Ben?!

Mike Cartwright, Selby, North Yorks


  1. We gave up on the clicker as our rescue collie cross hated it. Did exactly as yours cowered and run away from the noise even on the lowest noise setting.

    We have used reward based training and stimulate him with mental games :)

  2. Yes, I had that problem so I didn't use a clicker. Treats and attention workeda treat.

  3. People with deaf dogs appear to do "clicker" training with them, using a small key ring flash light (the one that only requires pushing a button) instead of a clicker, because dogs can't hear the sound, would that be an idea to use instead?

  4. You don't need a clicker to do clicker training! You can use a lot of things as a bridge marker. Click your fingers or your tounge (you always have these with you) I use a "tick - tock" type tounge noise, a short whistle or buy a gundog whistle, invent a word that means "yes" as yes is a word that is used a lot in life so wouldn't be good for training.

    The advantage of using something other than a clicker is you have a free hand, you don't need one for the clicker, one for the treat and one for the leash.

    Olwen Turns MAPDT 1093

  5. Congratulations on giving Ben a loving home and starting basic obedience training with him.

    Occasionally some dogs are very noise sensitive and find the noise of the clicker, even the adjustable volume ones, too much. However, this doesn't mean that you have to abandon the principles of clicker training! Have you thought about using a 'clicker word' instead of the click sound emitted by the clicker?

    Instead of clicking at the point that Ben does the required behaviour, you could say a word to replace the click sound. The word needs to be unique though and not one that you would use in everyday life. It could be something like 'Bingo!' or 'Howzat!' - for example.

    The word is still performing the function of the click sound and marking the behaviour as it occurs but without making Ben scared.

    Good luck with the rest of Ben's training.

  6. You could use a response word instead, the same rules as using the clicker apply. I use the word 'yes' if I don't have my clicker then treat.

  7. You can use a bit of blu-tak to further muffle the sound of the clicker. Or try a different noise altogether ... there is no harm in training that a tongue cluck means a treat, for example.

  8. You do not have to use a an actual clicker, the sound is after all just a marker. I have come across several dogs who are not happy with a box clicker but do well with a marker word such as a quiet, drawn out "Yesss" or "Gooood". People with deaf dogs might use a pen light, vibrating collar, thumbs up sign, floor vibration. with my own deaf Boxer through his two years I have used a mix of the vibrating collar (not shock collar) and a coloured pen light, He doesnt like the vibrations anymore. Hope this is helpful.

    Karen Lawe

  9. A girl at our training class had a deaf collie and used to use a torch instead of a clicker - would that work for you?

  10. Replace the click with a word instead. I use the word 'yes' Try a few goes building association of 'yes' with reward before you try and teach him something new.
    Good luck

  11. I would definitely wait a while before trying the clicker again. An alternative would be to use a verbal marker instead, such as "yes!" or "good!"

    As for alternative methods to clicker, although I do use clicker for some things I train, I certainly don't use it universally. Most basic training I do without clicker. I often use a verbal marker though. The important thing is that your dog is happy, confident and enjoying training with you.

  12. Easy! Put the clicker in a pocket or behind your back to muffle/reduce the noise, if he's OK with it, click/treat about 20 times, and start "revealing" the clicker sightly.

    Other alternatives are a marker word, though this being - by the nature of the human voice - variable, wont have such good results; or you could use visual stimulation e.g. knocking a torch on & off again. Either can be paired with treats to make a good secondary reinforcer.

  13. Why not make your own alternative to the clicker, since it sounds he is frightened of the sharp noise it makes. So when he does something right, you could say "good boy" (or whatever) and then treat. I've heard this does work as long as you always say the same thing in the same way so that he knows he has done right, as he would if you clicked. Or you could make a clicking noise with your tongue, or some noise rather like the sound people make with a horse.
    It's worth trying.
    But maybe someone will come up with a way to de-sensitise him to the clicker.
    Julia Lewis (just a dog owner)

  14. You could use a small flash light as the marker signal, rather than a sound. People with deaf dogs will use that, or a thumbs up to mark the moment the animal did something right. The equipment isn't critical. What's important is the science-based approach of marking the RIGHT behavior and providing a valuable reinforcer after.

    1. Christine Bailey17 January 2012 at 08:48

      I had a dog that was petrified of a clicker, but as others have said, it's just a marker. Something that was suggested to me was to use a ballpoint pen that clicks on and off with a very low sound. Don't forget you need to get the sound - and it certainly can be a noise you make yourself, such as a 'cluck' sound - well and truly associated with treats before you attempt to do any training. I think most people eventually replace a clicker with a word such as ok or yes anyway - using the clicker is really just so that you, the trainer, learn to get your timing right!

  15. Try using a ball point pen instead of a clicker, the noise will be a lot quieter, but you will get the same marker for the click/treat. Otherwise as suggested by others, a marker word or small torch light.