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How to Clicker Train Your Sheltie

Clicker training is ideal for Shelties learning obedience, tricks, and agility. It's a gentle dog training method that uses psychological conditioning.

It's easy to start clicker training your Sheltie; all you need is a clicker device, some dog training treats, and a basic understanding of how clicker training works, especially on sensitive and eager little working dogs like Shelties.

Clicker training is ideal for Shelties who are eager and sensitive to praise

Clicker training is ideal for Shelties who are eager and sensitive to praise

How Clicker Training Works

Clicker training is much like traditional dog training in that it uses a two-step process of learning and reinforcement. The psychological underpinnings have been scientifically demonstrated in dogs—and humans!—for over a century, since the time of Pavlov. It's a powerful way of programming automatic behaviors and is ideal for dog training.

So what makes clicker training different from traditional dog training?

We're adding one small step to the process by associating clicks with treats. Soon, the sound of your clicker becomes just as powerful as a dog treat. This foregoes the need to feed countless treats to your dog every time you want to train and reinforce commands.

In essence, your Sheltie becomes click-motivated instead of treat-motivated.

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There's no special significance to the sound of a click. Not at first. It's just a very specific sound for your dog to recognize; one that he won't hear outside of dog training. In time, the click will represent something special to him.

This is where the magic happens.

If it sounds complicated—don't worry, it's really not! The procedure is simple. But I want to detail the psychology so you understand what's going on in your dog's brain and don't accidentally introduce any errors as you go.

Teach "SIT" with Clicker Training in 3 Steps

Let's break down the three-step process of teaching your Sheltie to sit with clicker training. You can even teach this to puppies.

Note that each step requires about half a dozen repetitions (or less) and this can all be done in a single 10-minute training session.

Step 1. Learning by Demonstration

Your Sheltie doesn't understand English (who knew?) so you have to physically show him what the word "sit" means.

  • Say "SIT".
  • Gently push his butt downwards.
  • Watch him sit.
  • Click.
  • Feed a treat.

Step 2. Learning by Consequence

Now he knows what sit means, and that sitting leads to a treat in consequence. At the same time, you're also building an association between clicks and treats.

  • Say "SIT".
  • Watch him sit.
  • Click.
  • Feed a treat.

Step 3. Learning by Association

Now you don't need to give him a treat anymore. Just give him the click, and he'll still respond to your command.

  • Say "SIT".
  • Watch him sit.
  • Click.

Success! Your Sheltie responds to the command "SIT" and has learned that a click means he's done a good job. Now you can use clicking in other training routines, and with a decreasing reliance on treats. In time, the treats are eliminated altogether. You can work all kinds of routines without overfeeding your Sheltie and risking his long term health.

The ultimate goal of clicker training is to drop the clicker too, so that your Sheltie responds to your commands out of a hard-wired habit. As a dog owner you will agree that's a joy to behold!

Teach "SHHH" with Clicker Training in 2 Steps

Shelties are known for their full-bodied barking which, if left unchecked, can drive you absolutely crazy. Here's how to stop your Sheltie barking using clicker training.

This can be a harder routine to master, since the impulse to bark is so strong in Shelties. So only attempt this once you have nailed half a dozen other commands and you have a good clicker training rapport with your dog.

Step 1. Entrain The Bark

Encouraging your Sheltie to bark may sound counter-intuitive but it is proven very effective. He'll learn both "SPEAK" and "SHHH" in opposition to each other.

  • Say "SPEAK".
  • Hype him up to bark.
  • Click.
  • Feed a treat.

Step 2. Entrain Silence

While he's eating his treat, he's not barking. Perfect. Now condition the silence.

  • Say "SHHH".
  • Hold your hand up to get his attention.
  • Click.
  • Feed a treat.

Success! Reinforce this routine half a dozen times, and do it every day for a week. Be prompt with your clicks. And of course, if your Sheltie barks without the "SPEAK" command, don't give a click or a reward.

Once he responds consistently to the "SHHH" command, drop the treats and just use clicks to cement this learned behavior.

Clicker training for Shelties: There's a good boy!

There's a good boy!

The Benefits of Clicker Training

That's the practical part done. But I want you to know exactly why clicker training is so preferable to other methods of dog training.

  • Clicker training is Positive. Reinforce good behaviors instead of punishing bad ones. Your Sheltie enjoys training rather than fearing wrongdoing.
  • Clicker training is Fair. Teach your dog to perform good behaviors automatically, instead of responding to domination.
  • Clicker training is Fast. Accelerate the learning process with generalization: the transfer of the click reward to new commands.
  • Clicker training is Healthy. Reduce and eventually eliminate the need for treats, which can lead to excess weight gain, especially in Shelties.
  • Clicker training is Fun. Have a blast when your dog becomes clicker wise. He knows the rules of the game and thoroughly enjoys his role.

Fans of clicker training like it because it's easy to learn and doesn't involve punishment. If your dog doesn't perform the desired behavior, you simply don't click. He quickly learns what to do in order to get the positive response he desires.

Naysayers believe their dogs should respond out of respect rather than desire for a reward. Unfortunately, "respect" can be synonymous with negative reinforcement: unnecessarily dominating and forcing a dog into submission. Nervous and submissive Shelties do not respond well to aggressive trainers as they panic and become emotionally dysregulated.

All dog training methods are ultimately built on the principle that all animals seek pleasure and avoid pain. Clicker training and traditional dog training exploits the pleasure-seeking drive, while dominance training exploits the pain-avoidance drive. Both are powerful motivators of behavior, but only one is more arguably ethical.

3 Things You Need to Start Clicker Training

1. A Clicker

You need a device that gives a loud and consistent click sound. I recommend the HoAoOo Pet Training Clicker.

2. Dog Training Treats

Get a stash of quick-to-eat dog training treats for the initial period of association between treats and clicks. Pet Botanics Training Reward are ideal.

3. A Clicker Training Book

You can start clicker training with the basic principles laid out today. I also recommend Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us About All Animals by Karen Pryor, the inventor of clicker training. She explains the science, how and why it works, and offers step-by-step instructions on how to clicker train any animal in your life.

Author Bio

Becky Casale is the author of Sheltie Planet and Science Me. She lives in New Zealand with her partner, their two children, and their Sheltie Piper.


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