Clicker training is a form of classical conditioning, which is when a previously neutral stimulus evokes a positive response and becomes associated with a desired outcome or reward. For example, your dog may be highly food motivated and gets excited whenever he sees or smells his food.
However, you’ve just bought him a new food bowl, and he isn’t used to it, so he doesn’t get excited when he sees the bowl sans food. Once you start putting food into it, he realizes that this bowl is associated with food. Now, every time he sees the bowl, even if it’s empty, he will get excited!
Clickers are small handheld tools that are about the size of a standard keychain, and they make an audible “clicking” sound when they are pressed or squeezed. The average dog who has never seen or heard a clicker may not respond to it at first, so this is a perfect example of a neutral stimulus.
Clickers are commonly used as a part of training military and police dogs but can be used for your own pup at home. They are inexpensive and can be purchased from any pet supplier. Most importantly, clickers are associated with positive reinforcement training, which is the primary way that dogs learn and remember things. Negative reinforcement or “punishment” training is not as effective as positive reinforcement.