Sheltie Planet

A Guide to Clicker Training

By Rebecca Turner

Clicker Training is an easy dog training method based on operant and classical conditioning. Use it to instill any good behavior in your Sheltie dog.

Clicker Training Works Well on Shetland Sheepdogs

Clicker training works well on Shetland Sheepdogs

Clicker training is a gentle training method that uses only positive reinforcement to teach your dog new behaviors.

All you need is a "clicker" - a small plastic item that makes a good loud clicking noise for your dog - and an understanding about what makes this simple dog training method work so well.

I began using the clicker method very tentatively on Howard and Piper earlier this year. It definitely works on Shelties.

The i-Click Dog Training Clicker

The i-Click Dog Training Clicker

The simple click noise may mean nothing to you - but to them it is a brilliant motivator to listen and react to your commands. It is a really good communication tool because they can easily understand what you want.

Best of all, it speaks their psychological language. In the most natural way for a dog to understand, you can instill only good behaviors. More on this in a moment.

How Does Clicker Training Work?

The basis of clicker training is a two-stage process of learning and reinforcement. This psychological behavior has been studied in humans and animals for decades.


An Example: How to Stop Your Sheltie Barking with Clicker Training

Shetland Sheepdogs are known first of all for their sunny and sensitive disposition.

They're also known for their full-bodied barking that, if left unchecked, can drive your neighbors crazy.

Here's an excellent way to stop your Sheltie barking with clicker training.

Step 1 - Entrain The Bark

Encouraging your Sheltie to bark may sound counter-intuitive. But it is actually proven very effective.

Prepare your clicker and some really irresistible treats out of view of your dog. Then, trigger the barking by saying "Speak". You may have to hype him up a little the first time to get him to talk back to you.

Then, while your dog is barking, click and promptly give him a treat.

Step 2 - Entrain Silence

As soon as he takes the treat, make a hushing motion with your hand right to his face, and say "Shhh!"

Since you just gave him a treat, you will firmly have his attention. Click for giving you that attention, move your hand away, and give him another treat.

When he inevitably barking starts again, click during a bark and give a treat. As the dog swallows, make the hushing cue, click and give the treat. Repeat this sequence every time your dog barks.

What's Going On?

If this method makes no sense to you, consider it from your dog's perspective. As the "Shhh" command starts to work, your dog will want to keep his mouth closed in anticipation of the next click - and the treat.

The new cues are sure to become permanent if you keep the clicker and treats within reach.

Reinforce "Speak" and "Shhh" anytime your Sheltie barks over the next few days. A little persistence over the next week can pay off big time for years to come.

The Benefits of Clicker Training

Here are some very good reasons to begin clicker training with your Sheltie:

  • You're reinforcing good behaviors instead of correcting bad ones. This creates a happier dog who enjoys training - rather than fearing doing something wrong.
  • You're teaching your dog to offer good behaviors voluntarily, instead of luring and commanding the dog. He participates in training with his own free will.
  • It's easier to train new behaviors in a clicker-trained dog because of a process called generalization (transferring the same feelings onto a new stimulus). New behaviors can be entrained very quickly.
  • Clicker training becomes a lot of fun once your dog becomes "clicker wise". He knows the rules of the game and can thoroughly enjoy his new position.

What The Experts Say

Many dog owners like clicker training because it's easy to learn and never involves punishing your dog.

If your dog doesn't perform the desired behavior, you simply don't click. He'll quickly learn what to do in order to get the positive response he needs from you.

Those who dislike clicker training say they want their dogs to do what they're told out of respect rather than desire for a treat.

However, treats are used ubiquitously in dog training, especially when reinforcing a new command or behavior. In this sense, clicker training is no different.

What's more, gaining "respect" can mean negative reinforcement, by punishing or scaring your dog.

The reason the clicker method works so well for dogs is because, ultimately, all dog behaviors are selfish. The are driven by the law of consequence and whatever serves them best.

This can mean getting a reward (clicking / praising / treating) or avoiding a punishment (correcting / isolating as in traditional dog training). By only using positive reinforcement used in clicker training, everyone wins.

The ultimate goal of clicker training is (once you have ditched the treats) to ditch the clicker too. This means your dog always reacts to your commands out of habit. As a dog owner you will agree that is a joy to behold!

How to Begin Clicker Training

You'll need two things to get this show on the road:

  1. A clicker (such as the i-Click)
  2. An instruction manual (such as Clicker Training by Canis)

There are very few resources on the internet dedicated to clicker training, however I found that Clicker Training is a good downloadable guide for beginners. This is a 213-page downloadable book by Norwegian dog trainers Morten Egtvedt and Cecilie Koeste.

Clicker Training by Canis

Clicker Training by Canis

It contains the four key ingredients to effective clicker training, telling you exactly where to focus to make your training more effective. It also debunks myths about dog training and helps you understand exactly what your dog is thinking when he misbehaves. I found it very enlightening.

This book also gives you detailed instructions for mastering the basic commands through conditioning, plus lots of really impressive tricks you can teach your Sheltie. This becomes even easier with time as your dog becomes clicker-wise.

There is so much information in this book. It's clear Morten and Cecilie know their stuff. They were early adopters of the clicker method and are top competitors in obedience and tracking with their flat-coated Retrievers.

Visit their clicker training website for free training videos and to download their bestselling book.

About The Author

Rebecca Turner is the creator of Sheltie Planet where she writes about her love of Shetland Sheepdogs, inspired by her two Shelties, Howard and Piper. Learn more about Rebecca. Chat with our online Sheltie community on Facebook, Twitter and our Sheltie Forum.