How to Clicker-train a Dog

You're going to need more than a pointed finger and a stern look to properly train your dog. See more dog pictures.

It's OK to be skeptical. We've all heard about various breakthroughs in the dog-training field, and chances are, no matter how many people swear by a particular method, it did nothing for your loving (but ill-behaved) pooch. However, clicker training is different. According to the company Karen Pryor Clickertraining (KPCT) -- a leader in the development and instruction of the technique -- clicker training is "an animal training method based on behavioral psychology that relies on marking desirable behavior and rewarding it."

So what does behavioral psychology have to do with dog training? Clicker training works by using positive reinforcement, so there's no punishment involved. This means your dog will actually want to do what you say. It sounds crazy, we know, but there's something in it for him, too.

The idea behind clicker training is simple: A clicker (or any other tool that makes a distinctive sound) along with a reward -- such as a food-based treat -- can be used to teach your dog to repeatedly perform a specific behavior. Start by clicking the clicker, then reward your dog with a treat, no tricks or tasks involved. After he begins to associate the sound with a reward, try to get him to perform more complex behaviors. For example, if you want him to sit at the sound of the click, tell him to sit; then physically push his hindquarters to the ground. Once he's sitting, click the clicker, then give him a treat. Your pet will quickly pick up on the fact that sitting on command will earn him a tasty bite to eat [source: KPCT].

However, you have to be consistent. If you don't apply the techniques routinely, this training method will not work. Every time you click, you must be prepared to give your dog a treat -- at least at first. After the desired behavior has been established, you can continue to click, but distribute rewards less frequently or simply praise your dog. Eventually, you won't have to give him anything or even use the clicker. He'll understand what to do when he's told to sit. You can then use the clicker to train your dog in a new technique [source: KPCT].

Read the next page for tips to make sure your dog sits (or anything else you want him to do) when you click.