Click, Click, Click
A signal that means “That's it; here comes a reward” is called a conditioned reinforcer. Behaviorists in the 1940s and 1950s used conditioned reinforcers, and in the 1960s marine mammal trainers began using the sound of a whistle to train whales, dolphins, seals, and polar bears. Dog trainers popularized the method in the early 1990s, substituting clickers for whistles. Today, clicker training is a positive force in dog training.
Using a Clicker
Clicker training, also known by the technical term “operant conditioning,” is based on the tendency to repeat an action that has a positive result. The sound the clicker makes is paired with a reward such as a treat. By clicking exactly when your pug does something you like and then following the click with a treat or other reward, you can teach him any number of behaviors, from a simple sit to the complicated moves of a dance routine.
A clicker is a small plastic box with a metal strip that makes a clicking sound when pressed. If you don't have a clicker, you can instead snap your fingers or jingle a chain. Any such sound can serve as a bridge between the dog's action and a reward.
A clicker works by instantly reinforcing your pug's action. Timing is everything in training, and giving a click is much faster than saying “Good dog!” A clicker also allows you to shape specific behaviors that might otherwise be difficult to teach, such as tilting the head or giving a high-five. It's a great way to teach your pug tricks to perform in his therapy work, routines for freestyle events, or even just to sit pretty for the camera.
Loading the Clicker
Before you can use a clicker effectively, you need to teach your pug that “treat” follows “click.” This is called “loading the clicker.” To do it, simply click, then give your pug a treat. Repeat twenty or thirty times in a row. Your pug will soon make the connection.
When my pug does something really good, should I click several times to encourage him? No. Click only once, at the exact instant your pug is doing what you want. The click tells him that he's been successful and will be rewarded.
You can start to click and treat every time your pug does something you like — sits, lies down, comes toward you, potties outside — even if it's something he's done on his own and not at your command. Carry a clicker and treats with you so you can always reinforce the behaviors you want.
Once your pug understands a particular behavior and starts doing it on his own, you can give the action a name: sit, down, roll over. Give the cue word, and click if your pug responds correctly during or after the time you say it. This works for hand signals as well as verbal commands.
As your pug's skills improve, ask him to try a little harder. Click and treat only for a straighter sit, a longer down, or a come from farther away than usual. This allows you to shape the exact behavior you want. With a clicker and the help of a trainer or a good book on clicker training, such as The Only Dog Training Book You'll Ever Need, by Gerilyn J. Bielakiewicz, you can teach your pug all kinds of things. For more dog-training resources, see Appendix A (groups and organizations) or Appendix B (books and magazines).
Training Success List
Always use positive motivational training.
Pugs work best for food rewards and praise.
Never force or bully your pug unless you just want him to become stubborn.
Give your pug lots of opportunities to please you by showing him what you want.
Your level of commitment and the amount of time you spend working with your pug determine how successful you'll be.