Training your German Shepherd is all about communication. And the first thing you should teach your dog is how to know exactly when he's done the right thing.
But there's a trick…
You must communicate instantly. This is also known as marking the behavior.
Think of your dog's mind like a camera, constantly snapping shots of what's going on around them.
Communicating on the spot that you like a certain behavior, is like adding your own snap shot into their mind.
If you communicate too late, he won't know that he got it right. That leaves you with only seconds at the most.
So how can you do this without turning yourself into The Flash?
Learning how to use a dog clicker is an invaluable skill and the best way to communicate instantly with your pooch.
Use the links below to learn more about clicker training. Click one and you'll be magically transported to any section you're interested in.
Quick Navigation Menu
- Why is Clicker Training so Effective?
- What's a Reward?
- The Age Old Debate: To Use or Not to Use
- Clicker Training is Science-Based
- How to Use a Dog Clicker to Charge the Mark [Video]
- How to Use a Dog Clicker: What You Need to Get Started
- Puppy Training Kit Plus
Why Using a Dog Clicker is So Effective
Using a clicker when training your dog offers a very unique benefit.
Pairing the click with a food reward increases those split seconds you have to show your dog you like what he just did to something more manageable.
Essentially it's the click that lets him know he's a superstar and that a reward is on the way.
What's a Reward?
A reward can be anything your dog loves. Some dogs love praise, some prefer physical affection. Other's are food driven and even toy or play driven.
But the easiest rewards to start with are food treats. Go for something soft, that's easy to chew and swallow.
As you start teaching your dog more complex behaviors you'll notice that some rewards have a higher value than others for your dog.
If you want to find out more about how you can ask your dog to show you what they value more, check out this article on dog learning.
And as your dog becomes more clicker-savvy and fluid in obedience you can easily add toy play to your toolbox of training.
Are you potty training your German Shepherd? Check out these 12 tips to potty training like a pro.
The Age Old Debate: To Use or Not to Use
There's always a debate in the dog training world about whether a clicker or a voice marker is more effective.
In my opinion, they are both equally effective ways to mark the behaviors you like. It's all up to your preference.
I started by using only a clicker and then switched over to marking behaviors with certain words.
Now I use a clicker to teach a new behavior and once my dogs are fluid I switch back to using my voice.
There are a 3 great benefits to using a clicker for new comers to marker training…
- The clicker has a constant sound. So there's no chance of your dog being influenced by the tone of your voice.
- Newcomers often miss the moment to mark so, the clicker makes it super easy to mark at the precise moment.
- The clicker takes a lot of the thinking out of marker training, to begin with. So you're not under pressure to remember the words you have chosen to mark, release, or asking your dog for duration.
Like I mentioned, using one or not is a personal choice and some really famous trainers swear by clickers.
Check out this article that explains the connection between body language and your voice. Why this connection is so powerful and how it affects dog training.
So, you might be wondering, “Is all this clickety-click just mumbo jumbo?”
The answer is no…
Clicker Training is Science-Based
When I first learned about clicker training on a puppy training course 10 years ago I wanted to understand how and why it is so effective in dog training.
Then I remembered Pavlov and his salivating dogs.
If you want to find out more about Pavlov, you can read about him here.
During his study of the physiology of digestion in dogs, Pavlov stumbled across Classical Conditioning. You can read about his experiments here.
But in short, he noticed that when his technician was in the room the dogs would salivate.
This led him to believe that the dogs had become conditioned to associate the technician with food. Since he was the one feeding them during the experiments.
To further test this theory, Pavlov introduced a bell before feeding time. After a few repetitions, the dogs salivated in response to the bell.
In simple terms…
Classical Conditioning is what you use to help your dog understand what the clicker means. Check out the video below to see what I mean.
And Operant Conditioning is when you teach your dog behaviors using the clicker.
Using a marker like a word or a sound when training your German Shepherd works in the same way.
You are conditioning your dog to associate the click with a treat. But more importantly, you are conditioning your dog's behavior.
So, clicker or marker training is based on solid science!
How to Use a Dog Clicker to Charge the Mark
The ‘mark' is the clicking sound. And charging it means you're teaching your dog that when he hears the click sound he's just done something that made you happy!
Check out this video I made with Zè. He's already clicker-savvy. To keep him from getting bored so I could make this video, I added some challenges like duration.
But you don't need to worry about duration for now.
Get your dog's attention.
Rinse and repeat!
Remember, you must click within the first second for your dog to make the connection between the marker/clicker sound and the reward.
At this stage of the game, you're not asking your dog to do anything you're only marking and rewarding.
Mark – Reward – Mark – Reward – Mark – Reward. Is the basic principle here.
You may be wondering how long your dog will take to make the connection…
Aim for about 20 reps over two or three training sessions. Or 2 or 3 5 minute sessions.
Some dogs learn faster than others but you have a German Shepherd! So you might be surprised at how quickly he “gets it”!
At the start of a training session with your German Shepherd just do a few mark-reward warm-ups to remind him.
This is the foundation of effective German Shepherd training.
Once your dog has mastered this you have a handy tool to communicate with your dog whenever, wherever you want.
How to Use a Dog Clicker: What You Need to Get Started
Once you get the hang of it, clicker training is very easy. But if you're new to the game it can be a little overwhelming, to begin with.
But don't split hairs over this. There are some fantastic beginner programs from world-renowned clicker trainers.
My all-time favorite dog training idol and one of the people that introduced clicker training to the dog training world is Karen Pryor.
So today I'm going to share with you what I think is a great introduction to clicker training.
I'll show you why this should be a part of any dog training toolbox, especially for beginners. But nothing's perfect, so I'll also share with you what I think needs improving.
This kit has been put together by Karen Pryor herself. So if you're new to the game of clicker training keep reading…
Puppy Training Kit Plus by Karen Pryor
Karen Pryor's Credentials
I know you love your dog. If you didn't you wouldn't be here.
So before you put the training and welfare of your dog into a trainer's hands you need to know who you're dealing with. And that their advice is not from Micky Mouse.
There's a lot to say about Karen Pryor's credentials but let's take a quick look at who she is and why you should trust her…
Karen specializes in behavioral psychology and she's also the founder of clicker training.
She introduced the concept of clicker training into the world of dog training in seminars during 1992 and '93.
And this was the start of revolutionizing dog training from punishment-based training to positive reinforcement and force-free training.
Her first book was Don't Shoot the Dog published in 1984. And since then she's written over 20 other books. You can learn more about her books here.
In 2007 Karen established the Karen Pryor Academy to set standards for good training practices.
Receiving a qualification from the academy is considered the gold standard in dog training.
Inside The Puppy Training Kit Plus you'll find:
- The book Getting Started Clicker Training for Dogs
- The Clicker Puppy DVD
- An i-Click Clicker
- A set of Click-a-Trick Cards
- Dog treats to get you started
Each of these is essential to set you on the path of clicker training and the endless possibilities it brings.
And the learning material caters to you, whether you prefer learning through reading or watch videos.
You'll also need a treat pouch. It's much easier to handle and distribute treats using one of these. I use the Mikki Training Deluxe Treat Bag.
Getting Started Clicker Training for Dogs – The Book
Remember earlier I mentioned that clicker training is based on science?
Well, the first thing I like about the book is the fact that it's just the right blend of practical tips and science to help anyone understand why clicker training works.
The book gives you the first steps to building a system of communication and a deeper bond with your dog.
If you've never tried clicker training before this is a great place to start.
Starting a new training method can be overwhelming. But this book takes the guesswork out of where to start and what to do next. Leaving you time to focus on your dog.
Instead of pages and pages of text, this book is also filled with step-by-step over 70 action photos which are very helpful for you to visualize what's being described.
The photos show in detail some very important concepts of clicker training like:
- Choosing and delivering a reward.
- Shaping behavior.
- Timing the click correctly.
- Raising the criteria.
And basic obedience or foundation behaviors like:
- Loose leash walking.
In my opinion, the book is the first step to the amazing world of clicker training and should be a part of any dog lover's library.
The Clicker Puppy DVD
The best part about this DVD is you get to see first hand how untrained dogs are trained using a clicker.
And a lot of the training is done by children. This goes to show you just how easy and fun clicker training is.
And you won't be overwhelmed because the DVD goes really slowly, breaking down everything into little steps. You and your dog will see the basics in action like sit, down, and come.
But you'll also learn to teach your dog some cool basic tricks like:
- Roll over.
- High Five!
The DVD is a great addition to this training kit. And like the book, it'll train you to use a clicker properly so that you can communicate with your dog in a way they understand.
I love these little flashcards! You can take them with you on a trip to the dog park or on walks so you always have the clicker training techniques handy when you and your dog want to learn.
These cards will show you fun ways to teach your dog some neat tricks and manners too like:
- Hey girl (or boy)!
- Leash manners.
- Find the keys (believe me, this one comes in very handy).
- Hide and seek.
- Speak and Shhh!
And that's not all…
You'll also learn a bunch of cool games you can play with your dog… Using something as simple as a box!!
What Other Dog Owners are Saying
From my research all across the web, dog owners are positive about the Puppy Training Kit Plus by Karen Pryor.
Many owners have reported their small puppies responding to the training within a few minutes.
And others have said their puppies were fluid in basic manners like sit, down, stay, and come within a couple of days.
One owner reported that after 2 months, she was finally able to teach her dog to retrieve his frisbee – just by letting the clicker do the talking.
Many newcomers to clicker training have said how surprised they are at the fact that they didn't need any prior experience with dog training or clicker training for that matter.
And one owner said he has no need for those expensive dog training classes.
What Needs Improving?
Of course, like everything in life, nothing is perfect. And I do think there are a few things that can be improved with this kit.
Firstly, the DVD was shot during the '90s, so you can imagine there is no high definition.
I think this can be improved by at least remastering the DVD to a higher quality.
And the music is corny – I mean really corny! This is an easy fix, and I'd like to see a more modern voice over and music.
But don't let the 90's feel put you off. It's still a great tool to show you powerful techniques to build communication with your dog.
There are opinions on the level of information too. Some dog owners say they were overwhelmed by all the information.
This happens easily when we're learning about new things. So my advice here is to go as slow as you and your dog need to. It's not a race!
On the other hand, some dog owners said there wasn't enough information.
But from what I can tell, most of these owners are already using clicker training or have more than a basic understanding of the training technique.
And as far as the treat goes… Some dogs loved them and others turned up their noses. It's a matter of opinion I guess, and our dogs have an opinion too!
Should you buy the Puppy Training Kit Plus?
- If you're a newcomer to positive training or dog training in general
- If you want to learn how to use a dog clicker.
- If you want to learn about science-based, force-free training methods.
- If you want to build a solid foundation of communication with your dog.
- If you want to build a deep bond.
- If you want to teach your dog to be a problem solver and not a robot.
Then I can wholeheartedly say yes!
All you need is your dog, the time, and the willingness to learn. And a desire to deepen the bond between you and your dog.
Karen Pryor is a living legend in the dog training world. And her Puppy Training Kit Plus will teach you one of the most valuable training techniques you'll ever learn.
Teach your German Shepherd these 29 Essential Training Commands – in German and English!