Havanese are exceptionally bright dogs. They are easy to train and respond best to positive reinforcement training as opposed to the old “jerk and pull” methods.
What the heck is a clicker?!
A clicker is a small, mechanical noise maker. It is used to mark or “highlight” desired behaviour.
How do I introduce a clicker to my dog?
Use a variety of treats broken up into very small bits. Have a mixture of high value rewards (liver cake, cheese) and lower value rewards like dry biscuits or kibbles. You can also use a tug toy or ball or anything that your dog finds rewarding. The click means “you did good, that is what I wanted, here is your reward”
At first, all you are going to do is click and treat several times. At this point, you are not asking the dog to do anything you are just clicking the clicker and delivering a treat immediately after. If you have a dog that is sound sensitive you can muffle the sound of the clicker by putting it behind your back, wrapping it in some cloth or holding it in your pocket. Don’t click right next to your dogs head/ear. Put the clicker next to your ear and click. Loud isn’t it? Also, be sure to not have the food in plain sight of the dog.
You can do your random click and treat sessions for a few minutes during the day until your dog learns that the click means “yes, good dog.”
Practice Makes Perfect!
Once your dog understands that the click means they did something right you can introduce simple commands. Start with something your dog already knows, like “sit.”
Tell your dog to sit and as soon as his bottom hits the floor, click and treat him. Praise doesn’t have to end with one little tidbit of food either, you can keep praising verbally, physically or you can pull out a toy and have a play. Practice with a few commands your dog already knows to help perfect your timing on the clicker. After a few sessions when your dog is comfortable working around the clicker with commands he already knows you can start to shape them. For example, in agility when the dog get s on the table he must lay down or sit. The longer it takes your dog to sit or down, the more time you eat up. When your dog knows what “Down” means you can give him the command and then only click for the fast downs where he drops like a stone. If he lays down and you deem it to be too slow, you don’t click. You can still praise him but not as heavily. I usually just say (in a friendly voice) “oh no! what happened?” and then we try it again.
Crazy for the Clicker!
Once your dog learns that his actions get him a click and he starts to fully understand what a clicker is you may notice that he will go through his entire arsenal of tricks as if to say, “Is it this one? What about this? Will you click if I do this?”
This is normal and it is a good thing. It can be really fun to watch a dog do this especially when he begins to invent new behaviours in hopes of generating that all important click. This is the dog thinking and it is great exercise for their brain. You can encourage your dog to “keep thinking” by talking to them. I usually say “keep trying, good boy, keep trying” and that keeps my dog motivated enough to keep trying to figure it out even if I am not asking anything in particular of him. If all of a sudden your dog does something that you think is really neat, click and treat him. This is how you can create a new behaviour.
Common Misconceptions about the Clicker
My dog will never do as he is told if I don’t have my clicker handy
Using a clicker helps you identify the behaviour you want to train, it helps you develop consistency and shape it into what you want. Once the dog is consistently performing the behaviour on command the clicker is faded out. This does not mean you never use it again, you can always go back to your basics and use the clicker.
Some sound sensitive dogs are afraid of the sound from a clicker
This can be true with some dogs. However, your marker does not have to be a click. It can be a “yes”, or a click from a pen. As mentioned earlier, you can wrap your clicker in a cloth or paper towel or click it from inside your pocket or behind your back in order to muffle the sound. Regardless if the dog is sound sensitive or not you should not click the clicker right next to your dog’s ear.
Dogs that are clicker trained get fat because of too many treats
This is a popular misconception and all though, yes, it can happen, it is easily preventable. One of the easiest types of treats to train with is your dog’s supper. If your dog eats kibble, you can make them work for their supper. Also, if you are doing a lot of training and using other types of food rewards, you can cut back on the amount of food your dog is getting at meal time. On the nights you have your training class you can take their meal to class and make them work for it, or skip it completely and use something else for treats. The reward does not have to be food. It can be a special toy, tug or ball. I have 2 toys that my dog never, ever gets to play with except for when we are training. If you are using treats, break or cut them into teeny, tiny morsels. So small that they barely even have to chew them. If the dog does get fat it is %100 due to handler error.
A dog that is clicker trained won’t obey you unless you have a pocket full of treats
This misconception can be true if you train with food visible. Your dog will learn to, in a sense, trade desired behaviour for food. The sequence goes: behaviour à Click à then reward NOT behaviour and temptation with food à click à give food. Another way to avoid this problem is to use a variety of rewards as mentioned previously. Use treats, play, toys, ball, affection etc. Keep it varied. Always keep your dog guessing as to what sort of reward he will be getting. If your dog is not play/toy motivated, after you click, try running enthusiastically to your food source that is in another location all the while saying “Good boy Fido, let’s get you a treat!! Where’s your cookie!?! Good dog!”
Your dog will get confused by all the clickers if you are working at a class or public scenario
This is a common problem but it doesn’t last long. After you work with a clicker and your dog they will figure out that the only clicker that will get him the reward is the one you have. Clicker training your dog in the presence of other dogs and clickers is actually a great way to train with distractions. Keep in mind, you should begin training in a relatively distraction free area and then slowly add in the distractions over a period of time.
Clicker game: “101 Things to do with a Box”
For this game you will need a clicker, high value treats, and a box. Your treats should be very small (about the size of 2 grains of rice) and VERY tasty. It should take less than 2 seconds for your dog to eat them.
The box can be any size, cardboard or plastic.
Next, place the box in front of the dog. Click and treat for interest in the box. Start with clicking for looking at it, then for a nose touch, then a paw touch, click if they bunt it, click for jumping in/on it etc.
Only allow clicks for the same behaviour 3-5 times and then encourage the dog to move on.
For this game keep it light. Absolutely NO harsh words or “No‘s” or “Ah’s.” Every action is a good action but not every action may get the click. And if they don’t give you the behaviour you were wanting then all you say is, “Good try buddy, keep going.”
The more clicker savvy your dog gets the more interesting behaviours his mind will come up with all in an attempt of getting the click. This game is great for exercising your dog’s mind and will keep him busy on those cold winter days when walkies are not possible.