Initializing the Clicker

This first step is essential - don't skip it!

With this method we are going to be "shaping behaviors." You need a way to signal to the dog that he is performing whatever behavior it is that you were trying to get. Initially he will also get a treat for each correct response but since that takes a few seconds (at least) to happen, the clicker marks the exact moment of response, essentially "bridging" the time between response & reward. This is classical conditioning, like Pavlov & his drooling dogs. You are going to take a clicker & pair it with a food reward until the click itself gets the dog all happy.

So.. get yourself some clickers - little toy-like devices that make a fun click sound. If you prefer (or while you are waiting for your clicker to arrive), choose a "bridge word" instead. I suggest "Yes!!" - it is short & happy! Say it briskly, in a rather high pitched, & very excited voice. I will be using the term C&T in the lessons, meaning to click & give a treat. If you are using a bridge word, just say it & give a treat whenever I have written C&T. I do recomend the clicker over just the word most of the time, however. It seems to be processed more quickly by the dog's brain and the consistency of the click sound is also good.

And don't worry - you won't be clicking forever... they are only used in the training phase of any new behavior!

Okay, go in a quiet room with your dog & have a bowl of really tasty treats. Food such as hot dogs, chicken, roast beef, etc. works really well, so do high quality (all natural) dog treats such as the Oinker Roll or Natural Balance. The treats should be cut up into very small pieces & be soft (crunchy ones take too long to eat). Or have a large chunk that you break small pieces off of.

Now, as long as your dog isn't doing anything naughty at the moment, click your clicker (or say your bridge word) and give him a treat. Then click it again & again give a treat. We are NOT asking for a behavior (such as sit) here at all... just making the connection needed for the clicker to be effective. (A few dogs are frightened by the click sound. If your dog is, then try muffling the sound by having the clicker behind your back or in a pocket, or by using a Snapple beverage top - pushing in the raised button in the center makes a softer click. The fear shouldn't last long! )

Repeat 5-10 times. You'll know when you can stop - you'll click & your dog will immediately look up at you, "There is that sound, so where is my treat?".

I'll give you a few minutes to go do this...

There! Wasn't that fun? Excellent job, trainers!

AN IMPORTANT NOTE! To really succeed with this method of training, it is essential that the bridge, whether it be a clicker or a word, ALWAYS be followed by a terrific reinforcement. It is usually referred to as "click and treat" for a reason. That is one danger of using the bridge word I found that I said "Yes" to my dog at times when I wasn't necessarily training & didn't follow through with a treat (or something equally rewarding for her).


Okay, folks! Now that you have your dog conditioned to the clicker (or bridge word) you are ready for the next step. (Miss that lesson? The Clicker)

Again, go to a room without a whole lot of distraction, one where your dog already finds you more than usually interesting (the kitchen is usually best!). Have your bowl of tasty treats ready.

Say your dog's name ONCE in an upbeat, happy voice.When he turns to look at you, C&T. Then let him get a bit distracted by something and do it again. And again! You are looking for: he hears his name, and turns to look at you (okay at this point if he is just looking at your hand)! Many dogs will also come closer to you which is fine but not required.

If when you first say his name he doesn't look, then reach forward & gently touch him on the side or something so he turns around. Even if he doesn't look right at you, C&T. He'll soon get the idea!

At first, hold the treats in your hand behind your back, but then progress to having them sitting on the counter. Looking at the bowl of treats gets him nowhere... he needs to turn to look at you! If he keeps looking at the bowl, be patient... he will eventually turn to look at you.

Here are the next few steps.Take it slowly - but when he is consistently doing a step correctly then you can move on to the next!

Once he is consistently responding to the sound of his name, you want to start shaping the behavior so he is actually giving you eye contact. For many dogs, this is accomplished by warming up by practicing as you have been, then saying his name again but NOT clicking if he looks anywhere except your eyes. If he has been looking at, say, your hands, he'll likely try that again (since it has worked so well so far!), but be patient and wait. You are hoping that he will get frustrated, give up, and look up at you as if you say, "What??" As soon as he does, making eye contact, you C&T and praise! From now on, when practicing attention in a quiet area, your dog has to give actual eye contact to receive a C&T from you.

Dog Clicker Training Sugar Bear

Sugar Bear is staring at Joey's hand, Sugar Bear looks up a Joey's face -so Joey waits... C&T!

When your dog is quite reliably responding to you at this point (I hope you are remembering to say his name only ONCE) then you need to start being variable with how often you C&T a response. By doing this you can shape your dog's responses to be even better as well as decrease the risk that he will become food dependent. There are two ways in which his response can improve - how quickly he looks up at you, and how long he holds the eye contact. Shape each one separately! Say you decide to go for a quick response first. From then on, only C&T if he turns right away when you say his name. If he takes too long, you can just ignore that or perhaps smile, but it earns no C&T. You might want to have better than usual treats for this, since he will need to work a little harder in order to figure out what exactly it is you want now. When you decide to work on length of eye contact, stop C&T'ing the instant he looks at you, instead holding out a bit. Increase the required time in little increments, say for a count of 2 at first. If he's still looking deeply into your eyes - C&T and give a jackpot! If he turns away too soon, ignore him for a moment. Then try again.

At this point your dog is ready to learn to respond even around distractions. To start this, have him sit in front of you. Say his name and C&T for a response. Then, while he is still focused on you, have another person approach from the side. Your dog will likely turn & look at her. She (your friend) should immediately turn away, ceasing to show any interest. You say his name and C&T a correct response. If he doesn't respond, then just wait a bit. It might take a minute or two but your dog will eventually lose interest in this now-boring visitor & look at you again. The instant he does, you C&T, giving a jackpot reward! Then your friend should approach again & repeat the above. You will find that very quickly your dog can hardly be bothered with the visitor. After all... YOU are far far more interesting! If your dog really has trouble with this, then he may not be ready for this step yet. Your friend can work to being able to pet your dog.

Notice that there are two ways in which you are making this exercise more difficult for your dog: length of eye contact required before you C&T AND responding in spite of a distraction. Initially, be sure to work on only ONE of those at a time. When working on length, do it without distractions. When introducing distractions, don't require any length of time, instead C&T'ing a quick look. In fact, when a dog responds at all in the face of a very strong distraction (such as another dog coming over to play), I would C&T as soon as he turned toward you, not even waiting for him to look up at your eyes. What a good boy for paying attention to you at all instead of playing! Work on all of the pieces separately like this, then you will be able to put them all together. This concept applies to every exercise you will teach your pet!

Please keep all of these training sessions SHORT & FUN. Stop when your dog is still enjoying the training!

From that point you can use it whenever, wherever... You are outside & he sees another dog you'd rather he didn't? If you practiced this faithfully you should be able to say his name & have him instantly turn to look at you instead of the other dog!

Whenever you get a "breakthrough" or an exceptional performance like that, be sure to give a jackpot reward! That could be a really delicious treat or 5-6 bits of treats, given one at a time to lengthen the time spent getting it. After the initial teaching, the reward doesn't have to be food. It is far better to vary the reward: sometimes food, sometimes a ball tossed, sometimes a belly rub, sometimes the door opened so he can go outside. Discover what things you dog is the most excited by! Dogs certainly vary with that - my older dog Bear loves human attention & ear rubs, while my younger Rottie, Teddy, was never happy unless her reward was food. She was a natural born piggie! Use your imagination & be unpredictable!

Have fun!


This one is really fun & easy! You are going to teach your dog to touch something with his nose on cue. Do this because: it's fun, it's a good way to teach your dog to ring a bell to go outside, finishes, it can be used to desensitize a dog to nail clipping time, to teach agility, musical freestyle, & obedience trials exercises as well as for teaching service dog type behaviors.

Here's what you do:

Stand in front of your dog (or kneel in front of a little one). Rub some of your treats on the palm of your hand, so your hand smells good )to your dog!). Have the actual treats in your other hand.

Quickly bring your smelly hand, empty, palm forward almost right up to his nose. I guarantee the first time he'll poke it, hoping it contains that treat he smells. Super! He touched you! C&T (Click & Treat), giving the treat from your other hand. Be sure you clicked just at the exact moment he touched your hand! If you aren't in time, don't click at all, just praise.

Do it again & again, gradually moving your hand a bit farther back so eventually he is reaching out or walking to touch it. But do it gradually - over several sessions. I knew my Rottie Teddy had the concept when she would reach out to touch my hand, but keep eye contact with me the entire time.

Now... at the seminar where I learned this from trainer Leslie Nelson, she said that many dogs will do this excitedly about 6 times, then lose interest & just look at you. Don't quit - just perhaps rub a bit more treat smell on your palm.

You can add the command (or "cue") pretty quickly because the behavior is so easy. As soon as your dog isreliably touching your hand when you offer it, begin saying "Touch!" as you put your hand out.

Next steps are to have your dog touch your other hand instead and start to become variable with rewarding.

You can also then use the command "Touch" to mean touch other things. In our classes we use it to teach dogs to go lie on their beds, and at home my daughter taught Sugar Bear to ring some bells hanging from a doorknob as a signal that she wanted to go out. Very useful behavior! Sugar Bear can also pick up something I drop, get me a tissue when I sneeze, and push an Easy Button - all taught with targeting.

Sit, Down & Stand

Be sure you have finished The Clicker lesson!

Teaching the sit, down & stand are very easy, but may require patience. Instead of physically putting the dog into position, saying the command & hoping he makes the connection, you will be helping him to discover them. Have a bunch of tiny soft treats ready. You are going to use one as a "lure" to help him to get into the position you want. The lure is only used at the beginning - I will show you how to quickly fade it. (Be careful to follow the instructions carefully for that as you want your dog to always respond to you, whether or not you have a treat!). Stand or kneel in front of your standing dog. Show him a treat in your hand, then move it slowly from his nose up & back a bit over his eyes but slightly out of reach. Most dogs will rather quickly sit so they can better reach it. You might need to be patient & wait for a moment. But when he does, immediately C&T and praise. Please remember that the click has to come at the exact moment his rear hits the ground so he learns that that is what got him the treat! At this point you want to give the treat right away, too. It's okay if your dog gets up after the click - the click actually ends the exercise each time. If he doesn't sit at all - maybe keeps backing up trying to get the treat, then just turn away & ignore him for a few moments. Of course... don't give him the treat! Then try again, from the start.

Notice that I never said when to say "Sit." That's because it is best to wait until the behavior is being performed reliably before adding the verbal cue. That way he doesn't connect the word with the wrong behavior. Also, dogs learn the hand signals much more easily so tend to ignore the verbal commands that go along with them. It's best to teach them separately.

Once your dog is sitting, lure him into a stand by moving a treat from his nose straight out (stay parallel to the ground, if you lift up at all he will try to sit again!). Don't move the treat very far - you want him to just get off of his haunches and then stand still. As soon as he lifts into the standing position, C&T!

To continue practicing sitting & standing until that is easy. Be sure at this point you are reinforcing each correct response with a C&T.

Sara lures Sugar Bear up into a sit...

Sugar is sitting C&T!

Sara lures Sugar into a stand...

Sugar is standing C&T!

Sugar Bear responds to

There is no longer a treat The Down signal

No more luring, but she still gets a C&T!

The Stand signal. e is no longer a in Joey's hand.

The Down is very similar to the sit. Lure him into a sit & kneel in front of him. Use a treat to lure him into the down position. Start the treat at his nose, then drop it straight down (rather slowly) to the floor and out a bit towards his toes so he needs to lie down to get it. Be careful not to go out so far that he needs to walk forward to get it! Some dogs drop right away... some remain with their rears in the air. If that happens, just keep the treat on the floor, but keep it enclosed in your hand so he can't get it. Be patient! Eventually he'll drop his butt and then you can C&T and enthusiastically praise.

Most dogs do the down more easily at first from a sit, but for some dogs doing it from a standing position is easier. If you'd like to try that, then drop the treat from his nose to the ground as before, but as your are reaching the ground go backwards (between his legs) a little bit instead of forward. Hopefully, he will drop into the "sphinx" position.

If he doesn't get it after several tries, then try some behavior shaping. Instead of holding out for a complete down, you will instead C&T the very beginning of it - when he just drops his shoulders a little bit. C&T that a few times, then the next time hold out until he drops down a little bit more before you C&T. Continue until he has to lie all the way down to get the C&T! Jackpot time!

Some dogs, especially little ones, can achieve success at first if you stretch out one of your legs, making a bridge for him to walk under. Lure him into a sit in front of your leg, then show him a treat in your hand coming from under your leg and lure him into crawling under your leg to get it. The EXACT instant he is actually lying down, C&T and praise excitedly. What a good dog! Do that a few times, then try again the original way.

To get him back into a sitting position, lure him up the same way (as when teaching the sit), until he sits up, then C&T.

Once your dog is down, you can then practice "doggy push-ups". You know... sit-down-sit-down, C&T'ing each one. But don't forget to also practice plenty of sits & downs from a standing position.

Troubleshooting - is your dog not interested enough in your treats to work for them? Then get better ones. Read the section on treats on the Basic Info page.

Okay, so your dog is popping up & down like a little jackrabbit for that tasty lure, right! Practice a bit more with the lure like that, then proceed to the next step, which is to "lose the lure." If this is not done properly, you will end up with a dog that will perform the behavior only if he sees a treat. Hardly what we want! Instead, by carefully phasing out the lure, you teach him that it is not the sight of a treat that gets him a reward, but response to your command.

Review a few times luring him up & down with a treat in your right hand, C&T'ing each response. When you lure up for the sit, have your hand palm up. When you lure for the down, have your hand palm down. Next step is to have a treat in your signal hand, as before - that treat will still act as the lure but will NOT be given to your dog. Have a bunch of little treats in your other hand. Lure him into a sit (or down) with your signal hand, click, but then give him a treat from your other hand. He doesn't get the treat from the signal hand at all! Don't forget to click as soon as he sits (or downs), just before giving the treat.

Practice quite a few sits & downs, as well as sits from a stand that way. Very soon he will perform the behavior, then quickly look toward your other hand. That's good! What a clever dog!

Remember... if you know you did plenty of reps of the previous step (at any point in the training of any exercise) and your dog just doesn't respond correctly, then look away for a moment, giving him time to think about it. It's funny when they start offering all sorts of behaviors, hoping for the reward! They lie down, offer a paw, bark... just smile & think about how clever your dog is to try all of those things... and wait for him to get it right! Then click & jackpot!

The next step will to be to go to using your signal hand to just give the signal (the same luring motion but without a lure). First, review a few times with the lure but giving the treat from your other hand as explained in the last step. The last time, go ahead & give him the lure treat, then right away do the exact same motion but with an empty signal hand. As long as your hand motion (the signal) remained the same, your dog will most likely be "faked out" and will respond as before. C&T & praise very enthusiastically! Remember, palm up for sit, palm down for down. Practice this until your dog responds reliably to each signal.

Now, if you are still kneeling or bending down to give the Down signal, it's time to start standing up. You will need to do this in small increments so your dog still understands the signal, getting a bit more upright each time until you are standing upright. Although at first your signal will need to be quite exaggerated you can slowly shape it to be much more subtle. The signal should eventually just be a slight downward motion with your palm down for Down, and a slight upward motion with your palm up for Sit. (Note to obedience competitors - that signal is also accepted in the ring. But if you prefer the arm straight in the air signal, you can just teach that, as well, later!)

The next steps are to vary where you are when you give the signals. Work on standing a bit farther away each time as well as standing at different angles (and beside your dog) before giving the signals. Remember to practice each of those more advanced things separately so each will be stronger.

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