For many years, training dolphins, whales, sea lions, and parrots have involved the Click and Reward method of learning.
In this Labradoodle Clicker Training guide, I will show you how you and your Labradoodle will get the best possible start with clicker training.
But first, let’s take a quick look at what clicker training actually is, the history of it, a few techniques that are great to know before starting, and then exactly how you can teach your labradoodle pretty much anything using a clicker.
The History of Clicker Training
You might have previously heard about clicker training, but you probably don’t know how it all started.
Click and reward, or clicker training is slang for Operant conditioning, which is the scientifical principle for how behavior is developed when a dog affects the outside world – known as working operant.
B.F. Skinner was the first to describe this form of learning.
Many people might have heard about Skinners Box, a device which was fitted with several different buttons or levers.
When the animal inside the box would engage with a specific button or lever, it would receive a reward for that action.
When starting the experiment, the animal would typically hit the button by a coincidence, but quickly the animal would be very conscious regarding which button it should activate if it wanted the reward.
In the 1960s this method became increasingly popular among dolphin and whale trainers specifically in the US.
They had been looking for a method with which they could train these animals, without having physical contact with them, or without having to resort to a type of training which required punishing the animals.
Studies had shown that punishing large animals like that was completely useless in training them, as the animals would simply lose the respect and trust for the trainers, and just refuse to work.
But if they instead rewarded the dolphins with fish, toys, and gentle touching whenever they did what the trainer wanted, the animals became very trusting and would usually repeat the desired behavior.
But being able to tell a dolphin that the fish as a reward it just received was because of the height of the jump it just accomplished, was somewhat difficult to do.
The dolphin might as well believe it was because of the speed it swam by, or the big splash it made when it landed back in the water after the jump.
The enthusiasm was therefor quite big when the trainers using the Operant Conditioning method, could pinpoint the exact behavior in the animal which resulted in the reward it received.
Their years of experience with clicker training is something they have since then passed on to dog-lovers with numerous articles and seminars.
Why Should I Use a Clicker to Train My Dog
The sound that comes from a clicker is very distinguishable, and can very precisely tell a labradoodle what it is we wish to reward it for doing.
The clicker sound is a very short, neutral and very recognizable sound which, unlike our voice, doesn’t vary in strength or intensity.
Likewise, it also makes it very easy to communicate with the Labradoodle, as you can typically wait a bit with giving the reward, as the clicker sound signals that the dog did something very good and a reward is on the way.
How successful the Labradoodle clicker training will be, depends not so much on the actual clicker, but the reward it will associate with the sound, and afterward receive.
The reward can be anything that the Labradoodle really cares about: contact, playing, petting, praising or treats.
Allow the Dog To Think For Itself
With traditional dog training, you usually tell the dog what you want it to do, by motivating and manipulating it to do what you want, or perhaps by holding, pulling, or pushing the dog.
When you train a dog with the click and reward method, to a wide degree you allow your labradoodle to think for itself, and to try different things until the right behavior can be rewarded.
Don’t try and correct the wrong decisions the dog will make, just ignore them.
The dog will naturally try and repeat the behavior which gave it a treat the last time, and as a result, the dog will usually be a lot happier and creative, and give a stronger bond between the owner and the dog.
Planning and Partial Goals
With clicker training, it’s important that you have a plan for how you want the exercise to proceed.
You should set a goal, think the entire exercise through to the end, and divide it into smaller milestones.
Typically we have a tendency to forget the milestones, and don’t praise the dog until the desired end goal is met.
This will usually result in the dog not learning as fast as it could otherwise, which in turn is equally frustrating for both the owner and the dog itself.
Tips on Click and Reward
You can use clicker training for pretty much any exercise and no matter what age your dog has, just remember that a puppy should be taught in shorter sequences than an adult dog.
Before getting to the exact guide on clicker training, here are just three tips that are worth a read regarding the click and reward method.
- Always start by rewarding the wanted behavior with food.
- Don’t train the dog when it has just eaten or is tired.
- Choose some food that you know your dog loves.
- Always choose treats which a very small and easily chewable. You should be able to give 20-25 treats without your dog feeling full.
- Try making a list of the treats your dog loves the most, it could be sausage, cheese in cubes, dried liver or anything like that.
- When your dog understands the “game”, these treats could potentially be replaced with things that your dog can easily eat a lot of, like peas, small pieces of pasta, some of its dry food and so on.
Playing and Touching
When your Labradoodle has a full understanding of what the clicker means and has learned the wanted behavior, you could reward your dog in other ways than with treats.
Pay attention to if the way you choose to reward your dog either stress or manages to calm it.
A type of reward could be: playing with a football, frisbee, tennis ball, or playing with other dogs.
Letting your dog play with other dogs is usually a quite stressful experience, and could be used if you desire some speed and intensity in whatever exercise you have planned.
Touching your dog in a way you know it loves could be a massage or just generally being cuddled and spoken softly with, these kinds of ways would be beneficial if you’re about to train a behavior that requires concentration.
You can start using your voice – and in time replace – the clicker, by praising your dog with your voice, but don’t do this until your dog completely understands what kind of behavior you want from it, and is able to do it perfectly every time.
How To Get Started – 18 Tips For a Great Start
Now let’s take a look and how you should go about starting with Labradoodle clicker training.
- Find someplace quiet where you and your dog can train without being bothered. Keep your treats ready and easily accessible. The association between the click and the reward should be established. Use your thumb to quickly press the button on the clicker and release immediately, this will give the distinctive sound of a clicker. Reward the dog as soon as the click is heard or just shortly after. Walk around the area/room for a bit and repeat this 10-20 times. Don’t speak to your dog, let it concentrate on understanding the meaning of the click.
- Try to click and wait a bit with giving the treat. If your Labradoodle reacts and starts to look like it’s searching for the treat, you know the dog is beginning to understand that the signal means: “Good! A reward is coming”, and the exercise can continue.
- It’s all about timing. Click and reward (from now on just called CR) when you see something you really like. Remember to click while the dog is doing the wanted behavior, then you can give the treat immediately after. Remember to NEVER click just to get the dogs attention or as a signal to begin an exercise. Usually, as soon as your dog hears the click, it will stop whatever it’s doing, but that’s okay because the click is the same thing as praise, and usually ends the behavior.
- In principle, you could choose to click and reward (CR) your dog spontaneously for every kind of behavior it shows that you like. For example, you could CR your dog for sitting, fetching, looking at you, shake hands, roll over, or spinning around itself and so on. But you can also choose to only work on one wanted behavior at a time. This last option allows your dog to focus on one task at a time and is usually a quicker way to a perfect result.
- If you chose to work with one behavior at a time, you should do it in the following way: Decide what you want your Labradoodle to learn. That could be that you want your dog to walk from the kitchen to its crate/bed and lie down in it. Now think about all the different milestones you could reward your dog for while training this: Looking at you, sitting down, lying down, being able to lie for a longer period, walking towards the crate/bed, being called away from the crate/bed again, and many more options like those.
- Remember no commands to the dog. While it can be tempting to give your dog signals while working with it, you really should avoid doing so. When you are learning your dog new exercises, it will only confuse the dog if you suddenly start talking to it. If you use the clicker too early, the signal could give your dog the wrong impression of the meaning of that signal. Instead, you should use the signal as guidance for what you want your dog to do, and save the signal for when your Labradoodle is confident in the exercise.
- Use CR for even the smallest of progress or milestones. Don’t wait with CR until you see the wanted final result. If for example, you want your Labradoodle to come to you, you could CR at these milestones: When the dog is looking at you, when it takes a few steps towards you, comes directly to you, increases its speed, ignores any disturbance, touches your hand, sits beside you and, and so on. A good idea could be to take notes every time regarding how far you’ve progressed from time to time.
- Always click the button only once, when you see the wanted behavior. If you feel like expressing special enthusiasm after something your dog did, you could give several treats as a jackpot reward, as long as you only click once!
- Keep your training sessions short, and always end on a success. It can be tempting to keep going when you feel like it’s going well, but you should very rarely train more than 6-8 minutes each time, and take several breaks. Always stop when you have the sensation that your dog (if it was able to) would tell you that “This is fun, let’s try that again!” You will be amazed how quickly your dog is able to learn if you train it with this method a couple of times each day.
- Release your creativity! You can create situations that helps your Labradoodle reach its goal by helping or luring it a bit to get it into the desired position, but never shove, push, or pull the dog. Try training without a leash. That will usually help both you and the dog to be more creative in your training.
- Gradually demand more and more from your dog. The idea is that the dog will have to work just a little bit harder the next time to receive a reward. But remember that it’s your job to check that there is something to reward. Try looking for milestones like increased speed, precision, concentration, etc. This type of learning is also referred to as “shaping”. Because of your use of the clicker very accurately telling your dog where and when it did something correctly, the dog will quickly learn what it is you want it to do.
- Now you are ready to add a signal to the desired behavior. When a dog has learned that specific behavior results in CR, it will often spontaneously start showing this behavior. When it does this consistently, you can introduce a signal, it could be a command, hand signal or something like that, while the dog is showing that behavior. For example when it’s sitting down, coming towards you, jumping into the car, and so on. Only start using the signal on its own when you are willing to bet 100 dollars that the dog will do exactly what you want it to! Doing this too early the dog will lose its understanding of the signal.
- When the behavior is linked with a signal, you can just CR it when it does it in connection with a signal. If the dog does the wanted behavior without your signal, you should ignore it. Soon the dog will learn only to do the wanted behavior when you give the signal.
- If your Labradoodle doesn’t display the correct behavior when you give the signal, that doesn’t mean that your dog is completely disobedient. Most likely your dog just hasn’t truly mastered the signal, or perhaps you’ve given the signal under new circumstances, with more disturbances or something like that. Take a step back, help your dog, and then CR.
- When your dog understands the game, it will often spontaneously show things it has learned, but also come up with new ideas to get your attention, treats, playtime, or contact. This has the potential to evolve into many funny situations. For example, my dog is able to do the following things on command: Put his head on the ground, jump straight into the air, spin around itself, yawn, jump into my arms, and stick its’ tongue out! (That last one has been especially fun for my 4-year-old son!)
- Take your clicker with you and CR practical or funny things you notice your Labradoodle doing: Tilting its head, “talking” with strangers you meet, sticking its tongue out, shaking its head, and other things of that nature.
- If you and your dog seems stuck in an exercise and can’t seem to move on, try checking if your timing is correct. Be patient. The dog is just in a phase where it is trying to figure out what it is you want it to do. Perhaps you could try and continue the exercise in another location and give your dog a treat to attempt something. Usually, that will get it going again.
- And finally, have fun! Labradoodle clicker training is a fun and rewarding way to spend time with your dog, and there is no shadow of a doubt that it will make both you and your dog better at communication and working together.
So that was quite a handful, but if you want to put all that theory into practice, there is a small but fun exercise you could do with it.
Clicker Training Exercise Idea – Teach Your Dog To Lie Down and Roll Over
Now that you’ve come this far, let’s have a look at how you could practice this exercise.
- Start the training in familiar surroundings and with peace and quiet. Train without a leash (this means the leash won’t be in the way, and you won’t be tempted to pull the leash) Have your clicker ready and the treats within range.
- Say the dogs’ name, and CR the dog when it looks at you.
- Show your dog that you have a treat in your hand. Quickly shut your hand around the treat and move your hand from the dogs head to the ground in a swift motion. Keep your hand entirely still and don’t say anything. The dog might lick and scratch your hand. But be patient and don’t say a word.
- The dog will finally lie down to be able to better smell and examine your hand. As soon as the dog lies down CR, and open your hand so the dog can receive its treat. It’s okay if the dog stands up when eating the treat.
- Take a step sideways and repeat the exercise. Remember to keep quiet and keep your hand still. CR the dog every time it lies down. The dog will quickly figure out what it is you want it to do, and will quickly lie down on the ground as soon as your hand touches the ground. Practice this exercise multiple places around the house, and later on in your backyard. Take several breaks, and end on a success.
- If your dog is starting to lose its concentration, quickly show it the treat, and close your hand again. End the exercise on a success (remember to train in shorter sequences). When the dog lies down every time you put your hand on the ground, the time has come to start the next phase of the exercise.
- Lead your hand with the treat towards the ground, but don’t give the treat immediately. Instead, continue the motion with your hand under the dogs’ chin, behind and up towards the shoulder. When your dogs head and body follows that motion by turning to one side, then CR (avoid clicking if the dog stands up)
- Take a step to one side and repeat this exercise. Remember to keep quiet. CR the dog every time it lies down and starts the roll exercise.
Gradually increase the level of difficulty before clicking and giving the reward. The goal of this is to make sure that your dog can roll all the way round by itself.
Practice this exercise several different places around the house and later in your backyard.
Take several breaks and as usual, end on a success.
When the dog is able to lie down and roll over with the help of your hand moment, it is time to introduce the signal “Roll over”.
Simultaneously with your dog doing the roll motion, give the “Roll over” signal, CR as soon as the dog obeys this signal.
Repeat this step several times, each time gradually using your hand moment less and less.
The goal is that your dog is able to lie down and roll over, only by using the “Roll over” signal.