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Border Collie Rescue - On Line - Clicker Training

An introduction to Clicker Training

BCR Honourary Member - Jo Phillips talks about Clicker Training for Dogs

Sadly, Jo is no longer with us. After a long fight with cancer, Jo died in the year 2000.
We miss her, her good natured approach to life and the care and understanding she put into her work with dogs.
There is a space at Border Collie Rescue that will never be filled, however, in many ways Jo is still with us. Those who worked and trained dogs with Jo still find themselves asking 'What would Jo do about this one?'
Strangely, the results always seem to come more easily if that question is asked.
Jo has left us a legacy, part of which we will now share with you.
Her whole attitude to training a dog was based upon the 'Martini Code'.
In her own words - as are all of these following articles -

"The Martini Code means that once you are happy the dog has a good response and is performing the behaviour that you want, you should start to train it ANYWHERE! ANYPLACE! ANYTIME! so that it becomes established and the dog understands that when you give it the cue it performs the behaviour - ALL the time!"

This page is in memory of Dog Trainer and human being extraordinaire, JO PHILLIPS. You may not have ever have met her but she can still have quite an impact on your life and your relationship with your dog.

The information Jo has provided needs to be read in sequence - it is all on this page in correct order.


To start using a 'Clicker' you really have to know a bit more about the theory behind how dogs actually learn.
You also have to know what a 'Clicker' is.

It is not a new fangled way of training dogs, it has been with us for some time using the classic Operant Conditioning methods - a 'Clicker' is just a way of communicating information to your dog in a way that is quicker and more effective

Due to the split second timing that us of a 'Clicker' makes possible, it also communicates exactly what behaviour the trainer is looking for.
This allows you to teach the animal. in great detail, exactly what you want and when.

You can use the 'Clicker' to train older dogs new behaviours, once you have conditioned them to it. you can use it to train a new puppy.
You can use it for training competitive obedience exercises or agility.

Once the dog has learned the exercises, you can then put them on cue and eliminate the 'Clicker' itself. You then use it just to sharpen up or quicken your dogs responses to you.
You should then only need the 'Clicker' when you want to teach something new. you will find that your dog will appear to be really thinking about what it should be doing.


Clicker training is a method of training introduced from America in 1996/7.
It evolved from methods used to train mammals in marine parks.

You cannot offer such animals food treats, pats or talk to them under the water so a different way of communicating to the animal, to confirm that what is was doing was correct, was devised using a whistle to indicate the correct behaviour and was immediately followed by a fish reward.
Karen Pryor introduced the clickers into use after a career in training Dolphins, but instead of using the clicker she used a whistle as the signal. Dolphin makes the right move, trainer whistles, Dolphin knows it was right and that. later on, it will get a fish.

Once a dog has been 'conditioned' to the clicker it will work in exactly the same way.
The clicker will become a 'conditional re-enforcer'. You will find out more about this in the section covering How Dogs Learn.
The clicker is used to mark the wanted behaviour. The dog is then rewarded by a treat.

For example - the handler waits for the dog to lie down, then clicks and follows with a treat. The handler waits again, dog lies down, handler clicks and treats. Once the dog takes up the behaviour of lying down quickly, it is a sign that it has realised that the 'lying down' produces a click and treat.

No verbal commands are offered, nor is the dog handled at any time.
Once the dog is performing the WANTED behaviour reliably then a verbal command is introduced.
The dog sometimes offers different behaviours, the only one that gets the 'Click' is the correct one. It encourages dogs to be inventive by offering different behaviours to obtain the reward.

It makes them THINK!

How Dogs Learn.

Dogs learn about stimuli and associations.
They learn with positive consequences and negative consequences.
How well the dog learns depends on both his and our personality and the activity you are trying to teach - also the environment.

There are four very well known animal behaviourists who have researched how dogs learn and have come up with the following knowledge.

Edward Thorndike's theory encourages us to use motivation and accepted accidental behaviour in training our dogs.
Timing is a very important tool to use in accidental behaviour.
It helps teach that praise and pleasurable rewards increase correct behaviours. This knowledge helps eliminate negative training methods as dog owners need quick and effective results.

B.F. Skinner found out about reinforcement and it's power when we reduce it to intermittent reinforcement. If we stop reinforcing then the behaviour will cease.
This method can be applied to stop bad behaviours and increase good behaviours.
Kind methods should now be employed by simply ignoring wrong behaviours rather than yanking, pulling, shouting and in extreme, hitting the dog in attempts to correct.
It is important that absolutely NO punishment is used during 'Clicker' training.

Konrad Lorenz has made us think more about the evolution of certain behavioural patterns, what caused it initially, how it became established and why. Knowing this history and applying other learning principles we can change the pattern.

Ivan Pavlov discovered classical conditioning. It is a form of learning by association. Associating behaviour with a signal.
This teaches that things go together - you say "would you like a biscuit" and your dog runs to the treat bin.
He has learned that the phrase precedes a reward.The dog has learned to respond to the phrase in anticipation of the reward.

All these methods are kind and positive.
This leads to owners enjoying training their dogs which in turn, leads to dogs enjoying the training sessions and if they are Border Collies getting additional satisfaction from doing something that allows it to interact with its handler.


Firstly, you need to condition your dog to the clicker.
Get some treats, making them small enough so that you can administer 10 or 20 without filling the dog up.
If you become inventive with what you use, these small occasional treats can be more effective than larger quantities.

For example, use something the dog doesn't normally receive in its day to day diet.
Very small pieces of Cheese, Liver, Liver cake, bits of Hot Dog or Pasta are all good ideas.
You should not be giving your dogs treats "willy-nilly" They should now be earning every treat they get.

To establish good responses it is advisable to put the reward on to an intermittent regime, which makes the dog work harder.
So only click the best production of behaviour.
Once the dog has associated the clicker and treat then the treat part of the exercise and can be produced as 'dinner in a bowl' as long as you have clicked the wanted behaviour.

You can use tit bits as lures - this is called shaping.

Time Out

If your dog starts to 'mess around', put the treats and clicker away and completely ignore it for a short while.
This means to the dog - if you can't concentrate, we don't play the game! Time out should be used sparingly and only in extreme cases as it can distress some dogs.

It is best to avoid any kind of punishment at all.
Always make a point of finishing exercises while the going is good - and before boredom set in, as with any training.
Due to clicker training being all about timing, it is important that treats are easily edible.
If the dog has to stop and chew a hard biscuit, the communication is interrupted and you will loose the dogs concentration.


A jackpot means that the dog did really well and you should reward with a few extra treats or an extra large piece and go overboard with praise. "Hey, what a lad!!" - "Excellent!!" etc....

Ending the Session

Research has proved that many short sessions are more effective than long ones.
Firstly, only four or five minutes is sufficient. Always quit while you are BOTH having fun.

You may not get any further than the first step, but that's fine - remember patience - and the end result will come.

So Here We Go

Ideally, your first session should be only a few minutes.
You need to be free of distractions because both you and the dog are learning something new.
An indoor room is best to use as there are far to may wonderful things going on in the outside world.

If you have more than one dog it is best to remove the dog that is not being trained.
The treats should be in an easily accessible container - for you not the dog!

You will need space to move around.
Your dog will find it easier to become motivated if you are moving.

Some dogs are less interested in treats, but once they catch on to the meaning of the clicker an enthusiasm will develop naturally.
With these cases try your first session shortly before the dogs normal mealtime.
Start off with something easy so that you and your dogs get the feel of the clicker and gain confidence as you see how it works - remember you are BOTH learning and it doesn't matter if you make a mistake or click too early or too late to begin with.

Teaching to give a paw or just to look at you is a good way to start.
Once you have practiced and taught some basic obedience exercises and gained confidence in using a clicker, you can use it to reinforce any behaviour you want - from weaving in an out of your legs to sitting still when visitors come to the front door!

Some of the behaviours are irrelevant to obedience training but they add a bit of interactive fun that you can have with your Border Collie so that life does not become full of simply SIT - STAY and behave yourself.
Owning a dog should be fun - it builds companionship!

Training positively can build a lot of trust between you and your dog.


If you are interested in adopting a Border Collie from us,
please phone 0845 604 4941 during office hours.
(2 pm to 5 pm Tuesdays to Thursdays)

Please do not write to us or email us about adoption - we want to speak to you before we start the process.