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Increasing a Dog's Drive in Clicker Training

November 11, 2013     Ed Frawley

"NO CLICK" is Valuable Information for Your Dog

Your dog will start to understand what NO CLICK means. He knows that a click means he is receiving a reward but he will start to realize that NO CLICK means no reward. This doesn't become a negative response. It merely is a non-stressful way of telling your dog that he needs to keep trying.

Using Your Voice as a Tool

The most powerful tool you'll have in dog training is your voice. If you learn to use your voice positively, your dog's learning ability will increase especially in clicker training.

You may be training with a low to medium drive dog. It may be a little more difficult to motivate your dog so we recommend putting your dog through a short drive-building phase. This is done by simply teaching the dog, "Are you ready?" with your voice.

Saying "Are you ready?" every time you charge the mark is completely okay. If you say it in an excited manner, your dog will get excited as well.

To really get this working, say ARE YOU READY and then back away from your dog. This will peak the dog's desire to follow you. Unlike the clicker, you can say ARE YOU READY multiple times.

When the dog turns to follow you, mark the instant he turns. He is choosing to engage with you at that moment so marking it and giving him a reward and praise him like crazy. This will get him excited. Doing this teaches him that saying ARE YOU READY equals fun things happening!

Do this drive-building phase during the Charge the Mark period. This can be done 5 or 10 times in a row. Afterwards, you can then put the dog away.

Charging the mark teaches a dog that the CLICK equals a reward. With this extra step, you can also teach your dog that being engaged with you will also give him a nice reward.

Verbal Praise After the Reward

In clicker training, you can only CLICK one time followed with a reward. We can add encouraging verbal praise during the delivery of the reward and/or after the reward. In fact, some trainers have to praise after the reward to improve engagement.

New trainers will need to learn how to make this work. They will need to be enthusiastic and sound happy whenever they ask their dog ARE YOU READY? They also need to be excited when the CLICK and praise needs to be in a sincere manner as well. The more animated and excited the trainer is, the more interested the dog will be. This is a learned skill that some people can have a hard time with.

Often times, dog owners will forget to add praise to the reward. They will simply mark the behavior, give the reward, and just leave it at that. They think that giving the reward was good enough. And while for some dogs, it may be good enough, a lot of dogs won't be very excited about it. You will need to add that praise for medium to low drive dogs.

Low to medium drive dogs will get distracted and stop trying with a simple reward. Handlers who make mistakes during this engagement stage can result in dogs who are bored and shut down from that kind of activity. This is something you will need to work on which can actually be easy with enough effort.

The solution is to turn your reward delivery into a party. You need to act like you're having the time of your life. From a distance, call out your dog's name (not a command) in an excited tone. If this doesn't work, then put the dog away. Give him a time-out and let him sit in his crate and get bored.

Turn the Reward Delivery into a Party

When delivering the reward, turn it into a party. Make the dog move his feet. If this means making the moment, then move away from the dog as you reward him. It this means tossing the food on the ground to make the dog chase it like a toy, then do it. If it means pivoting from the dog to chase the reward in your hand, then do it. Point is, get him moving on the feet.

Turning this delivery into a party will increase his drive and engagement. Trainers who simply mark the dog and give him a food reward don't get the full benefits of clicker training.