Recently, an entirely new training method has emerged and gained rapid popularity for training certain types of dogs like Chihuahuas. Using a clicker, and the old principles of conditioning and positive reinforcement, a pet can be trained to perform a task for a reward in a fairly brief period of time.
Each clicker training session makes use of positive reinforcement, wherein the dog is given some kind of treat as a reward for accomplishing the task. The clicker is a small handheld device made of metal, which is encased by a plastic coating. Each time the dog trainer depresses a strip of metal on the device, it generates a ptopping sound which sounds exactly the same every time it’s done.
The point of using the clicker in this training technique is to convey to the animal the precise moment when a task is to be performed, and if the dog reacts appropriately to the sound, positive reinforcement is provided in the way of a reward.
The thing that makes this technique so effective is that the clicker designates a precise moment in time, and it is exactly the same every time, so there is no possibility of misinterpretation or confusion on the animal’s part.
During ordinary training which involves human voice commands, this kind of misunderstanding is possible, because there can be minor little differences in tone and voice fluctuation which the dog could easily misunderstand. From the standpoint of the dog, it’s a very simple situation – the same clicker sound is made, a task must be performed, and a treat gets provided.
Controversy About the Training
Some detractors point out that this training method has some drawbacks, in that it won’t work if the trainer does not have a reward ready to give to the dog. If the clicker is not visible, or for some reason is inaudible, the dog will miss the signal entirely, and not realize that a task should be performed.
Other points of contention are that it may cause the dog to gain excessive weight, when sessions are extended to include multiple rewards for multiple tasks, which is, of course, common at the beginning of the training routine. It has also been pointed out that if the dog becomes too old to adequately hear the clicker, or of any other environmental distractions interfere, the signal could be missed, and the training would be voided.
Converting Clicker Training
One way to avoid some of the potential pitfalls of clicker training is to gradually phase out the clicker routine after it has been sufficiently learned by your pet so that a similar routine could be implemented with the same results. For instance, the clicker itself could be replaced by a simple hand gesture or a verbal cue, and the concept can even be extended to phase out the reward part of the training as well.
Granted, this will take a bit longer with most dogs, but it has been shown to be effective in situations where the dog first understood the concept of the clicker routine very well. Transitioning to cues other than the clicker are readily adopted by many dogs once they have an understanding of the process, although the absence of a reward may take a little longer to impress upon your trainee.
How the Training Works
Before you begin your first training session with the dog, you have to convey the notion that each time he hears the clicker sound, a reward will be forthcoming. This is the critical component of the training, and it is very important that the association is made in the dog’s mind.
It won’t take long before a dog quickly learns to perk up or react to the sound of a clicker, because it sounds like nothing else in nature, and it means something special is coming. In the first phase of training, the most important thing is to establish this association, where clicker sound equals treats.
In phase two of the training, the desired task needs to be introduced to your Chihuahua, and the first tasks that you choose should be things that your dog is likely to do anyway, such as laying down or sitting. When your dog successfully completes the task, immediately follow up with another click sound, and then a reward.
The reward aspect is also very important, because it will provide motivation for your Chihuahua to complete the task, and it’s also critical that the reward is immediately forthcoming, so it is directly associated with the sound of the clicker, and the completion of the task.
Something you should not do during training is to make extra body gestures or any other sounds which might cue the dog to perform an action without the clicker sound. You don’t want the dog performing the action simply because he expects to hear the clicker.
The whole point is to trigger the proper behavior from the dog only when it hears the sound of the clicker. Keep in mind that Chihuahuas and dogs, in general, are extremely good at picking up on body language and voice fluctuations, so all these need to be filtered out during your training sessions.