Every time a puppy completes a task correctly, he is conditioned with a click. The click is a unique sound that comes from a mechanical noisemaker and marks the precise moment he is doing the right thing. The mark is followed by a training treat to reinforce the correct behavior. Here’s how to use clicker training to teach three basic commands.
Having a puppy come when called is the most important of all commands. Train recall when the puppy is between 7-8 weeks old. Say the word ‘come’ and when the puppy turns to run to you, give him a click. When he arrives at your side then give him a treat. Start with short distances and focus on the command in a 5–10-minute session. Repeat for several days and progressively add distance between you and your pup. After a week, try it with a second handler. Commands coming from a different voice are also important, especially if other people will command your pup (like your significant other). Command the pup, give him a click the moment he turns to run towards you, and give him a treat when returns to your side.
Puppies need to be comfortable in a kennel, especially for folks who travel or want their puppies to be crate trained. The second week of training is the perfect time to work on this, and that’s when the pup is between 8-9 weeks old. Place a kennel on the ground and leave the door open. Place some treats in the kennel, and then give the puppy a command (‘kennel’ is a popular choice). Let them enter the kennel, and when they find the treat give them a click. To get them to spend more time in the kennel try placing a bath towel in the bottom of the kennel. Spread treats around for them to find. Every time they find one give them a click. The final step is to give them the ‘kennel’ command and when they load up you’ll give them a click followed by a treat. To get the pup out of the kennel, use the ‘come’ command. Click when they come out of the box and treat when they are by your side. Now you’re building a training foundation using two commands: first to get them to kennel and then to get them to come.
Sit or Whoa
To teach a sporting breed to sit or whoa, use a place board. Place boards can be stands that are usually 2x3 feet and are several inches off the ground. Puppies like spots, and those spots give them a sense of place. When your puppy is between 9-10 weeks old, ask him to ‘come’ on to the place board. When he stands on the place board give him a click/treat.
Once your puppy is comfortable getting on the place board, you’ll then work on one of two different commands depending on your sporting breed. Retrievers, flushing, and versatile dogs are taught to sit, while pointing dogs are taught to stand and whoa. To teach a puppy to sit, say the command ‘sit,’ and gently push their hindquarters to the place board. Just as their bottom is about to touch the board give a click followed by a treat. Let them off the place board and repeat the ‘come’ and ‘sit’ commands. For pointing dogs, you want to consistently increase the length of time they stand on the place board. Once on the place board use a ‘whoa’ command, make them wait for 5 seconds, click/treat, and let them off. Repeat the ‘come’ command to get them back on the place board, give them a ‘whoa’ command and make them stand for 10 seconds, give them a click/treat and let them off the place board. Repeat the steps while working towards longer durations.
The mark/reward combination of click and treat is a great way to help puppies learn a new command. Owners can focus on what their puppy is doing right instead of what he’s doing wrong. This kind of positive training helps build a lifelong, ready-for-anything bond. Teach, reinforce, and reward. The rest will fall into place.