Most dogs take to clicker training like ducks to water! But occasionally, one of our students goes home after Orientation, eager to start the training process with their dog, only to discover that their dog is afraid of the clicker.
Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to teach a dog that a click isn’t so scary after all. Here are some of the techniques we’ve used to turn this fear around.
Setting the Stage for Fear-Free Clicking
First, make sure you’re using the highest value treats you can find. This will help all of these techniques work better! Even if the first couple of clicks startle your dog, pairing them with a very tasty snack may change your dog’s mind quickly.
Be sure to use an i-Click, the type of clicker with a raised button, rather than a box clicker. i-Clicks are much quieter than box clickers. (See photo at right for an example.)
Unless your dog is scared of being outside, we recommend that you start training outside. This makes the click sound less unexpected.
I think some owners inadvertently startle their dogs by clicking in a quiet room when the dog doesn’t expect any unusual sounds. Dogs are used to hearing random noises while exploring outside, so the click sound won’t be as sudden.
It is true that you can train using a verbal marker rather than a clicker. However, some research has shown that using a clicker speeds up the training by about 30%. Anecdotally, we have found a strong correlation between owners who use the clicker and faster progress in training. So, it’s worth trying to work through your dog’s dislike of the click sound.
Now, Start Clicking
Hold the clicker behind your back. This will muffle the sound a bit, and prevent you from inadvertently pointing it at your dog. (Remember, it’s not a remote control!)
If that’s not enough, you can wrap the clicker in layers of soft fabric to muffle the sound even more. One of my clever clients wrapped her clicker in baby socks. Every few days, she could take one sock off, so the sound gradually became a bit louder. It worked perfectly! After a couple of weeks, they were able to take the socks off the clicker and click “normally.”
You can also try these techniques with a “clicky pen” (one with a button on the end that you have to “click” to start writing and “click” to stop) and see if your dog is more tolerant of that. If she is, use that for the first couple of weeks and then reintroduce the clicker.
Need More Help?
Need more ideas? Karen Pryor wrote an article with a few novel ideas, including how to combine dinner time with clicking.
Another option is to click several rooms away from your dog. If training outside isn’t an option due to the weather, this is a great way to set yourself up for success.
If you know your dog is sensitive to unfamiliar sounds, set yourself up for success. Use as many of these techniques at once as you can! If you’ve worked through fear of the clicker with one of your dogs, let us know in the comments what steps you took.