a chihuahua looking attentively at the clicker

A number of different training techniques have been developed around the world to help people and dogs understand each other better. Clicker training is a unique method of training using positive reinforcement. The dog hears a unique sound (the click) and learns to associate that with a treat or toy.

This method of training allows you to capture behaviors naturally, avoids the use of force, and shape behaviors that may be more difficult to train.

How it works

In order for your chihuahua to understand that the click = a treat, you start out by loading the clicker. Loading the clicker means that you click the clicker (ad) and then immediately feed the dog a treat. Just like when your dog magically appears when you crinkle a cheese wrapper or open the fridge, your dog should view the clicker sound in the same way.

Once your pet knows the click means a treat is coming, you can use it as a way of saying, “Yes! That’s the behavior I’m looking for!”

If your dog absolutely won’t lay down on command, you can put up your feet while watching TV and click when ever your pet lays down naturally. You can also shape behaviors by picking the nearest approximation (perhaps an elbow dip or lowering their head a little bit instead of a down) and then gradually selecting for closer versions of the down.

a chihuahua in two paws up in a lemonade stand prop.
Tank was trained to hold this pose using clicker training.

Why a Clicker

Many people already use a word such as “Good!” or “Yes!” to let their dog know that they did something right. The problem with this is that humans are a talkative species, and your chihuahua is already working their brain overtime trying to pick out words that mean something to them from the endless onslaught of language.

A sound is much easier for them to process, and we also don’t use a click in every day conversation. Imagine someone asking you if you want to go to the movies, and you say “Yes!” on the phone, but right behind you your dog is tinkling on a potted plant. You just ‘clicked’ that, and you may not even know it!

The other benefit is that once you get used to clicking, it’s faster than your voice will ever be, making it more precise.

Are clickers good for chihuahuas specifically?

Chihuahuas are a bold, yet fragile breed of dog. Try to do a leash correction on your chihuahua for pulling on the leash, you might collapse their trachea. Tell them ‘no’ when they’re busy barking at the doorbell, and you’ll discover no matter how loud you yell, it falls on deaf ears.

Chihuahuas are a ‘why’ breed of dog. They want to know why you want them to go potty outside when it is clearly snowing right now. They want to know why they should come to you when they just got a free jail break out of the house. They need to have ‘why’ explained on so many other things that they trust your judgment on new things.

Clicker training can help build that trust. By letting them know that they will be rewarded for using their brains and working for you in a partnership, most chihuahuas will quickly begin offering behaviors to try and win a ‘click’ from you.

a dog experiments with a box.
“What do we do with a box?” Rocco has some ideas.

Try it!

If you want to get the hang of clicking before you start with your dog, try practicing with your favorite movie. Pick a motion, and try to click for it as soon as you see the beginning of the movement in your movie. Like action movies? Click for explosions. Like horror? Click for screams.

It won’t mean anything to your dog if the clicker isn’t loaded, so you can click away without worrying about what you are telling your dog.

Already loaded the clicker? Try having some fun with it! Before you start working on formal obedience or behavioral problems, consider teaching your pet to enjoy learning through a simple game.

One of the funnest games to play with your pet is to bring out a small box (think shoe box for our chihuahuas) and click anything your dog does related to the box. (At first, even looking at or sniffing the box, which almost any dog will do if you set it in front of them.)

Don’t be too strict on what you want the end product to be. Let your dog decide! Some dogs will jump right in, knock the box around, or do other creative things when you realize you want something involving the box.

The game will not only leave you with a cool trick at the end, but also help you learn how to shape your commands. The sky is the limit once your dog understands that a click means they’ve done the right thing.

Clicker training is one of the most versatile tools out there, so I highly suggest giving it a try. You’d be surprised what you can do with a clicker,(ad) some treats, and a great dog.

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By Andrea

Andrea is a dedicated dog mom of three chihuahuas. She has over a decade of experience as a dog groomer, chihuahua owner, and more recently as a dog trainer. She loves all things canine, particularly chihuahuas.

2 thoughts on “What is clicker training?”
  1. […] In our first article on clicker training, we talked about what clicker training is and whether chihuahuas benefit from it. Clicker training has a lot of benefits, and it’s a great choice for working with small dogs. Once you decide you want to use this method for your training, the next step is learning how to load the clicker. […]

  2. When the animal performs the desired behavior, the trainer clicks the device and immediately gives the animal a reward. Over time, the animal learns to associate the sound of the clicker with the reward, and the behavior becomes more likely to be repeated. Clicker training is often used to teach dogs new behaviors, such as obedience commands, agility tricks, and even complex tasks like service work. It’s a humane, effective and efficient way of training, it can also be used with other animals such as cats, horses, and parrots.

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