How to Use a Dog Clicker to Train Your German Shepherd

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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.

Here’s why…

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

  1. Why is Clicker Training so Effective?
  2. What’s a Reward?
  3. The Age Old Debate: To Use or Not to Use
  4. Clicker Training is Science-Based
  5. How to Use a Dog Clicker to Charge the Mark [Video]
  6. How to Use a Dog Clicker: What You Need to Get Started
  7. Puppy Training Kit Plus
  8. Conclusion

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.
Learning How to Use a Dog Clicker

Learning how to use a dog clicker is an invaluable skill for training your dog.

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 Zรจ.  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.

Step One:

Get your dog’s attention.

Step Two:


Step Three:


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.

What’s Inside

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.

Treat Pouch for Clicker Training

Here’s the treat pouch I use for holding food rewards during training.

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.
  • Targeting.
  • Raising the criteria.

And basic obedience or foundation behaviors like:

  • Down.
  • Sit.
  • Come.
  • Loose leash walking.

And more.

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:

  • Fetch.
  • 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.

Click-a-Trick Cards

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.

Check out the Puppy Training Kit Plus Here.

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.

Check out the Puppy Training Kit Plus on Amazon.

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About the author: Gabriella is a certified professional dog trainer with the Victoria Stilwell Academy. She has a special passion for teaching GSD guardians to train their dogs with kindness and clarity using positive reinforcement methods without force, pain, or fear. Join “Dog Speak” for free dog training tips and advice from a professional dog trainer.

  • Melanie pfleger

    Hi Gabriella, I will take all your information on board as well as I can. I’m suddenly anxious about picking up my 8wk old pup tomoz as I’ve read so many bad reviews recently on GSD pups excessive bitting/barking/ menace behaviour etc… I’ve had big dogs my whole life but never full GSD and never had major issues.
    I have a 7yr old child and another dog.
    I want to implement clicker training and the 4 none bitting games you have mentioned. Let Hope all goes well and we don’t have major issues.

    • Hi Melanie!

      Thank you for your comment here! And congrats on the new puppy you’re picking up!

      I’m so happy to hear you’re going to be implementing clicker training with your new pup! It’s such an awesome way to communicate with dogs – you and your puppy will love it.

      I highly recommend having a look at joining my Soft Mouth Masterclass, you’ll get videos and detailed descriptions of the games, as well as 3 games you can play to start implementing clicker training.

      And the thing my clients find the most valuable is the 2 x 30-minute Zoom calls with me for one-on-one support through the bite inhibition training.

      All the best with the new pupper! <3

  • Eleanor Powell

    I’m looking for some fun tricks to teach my GSD, since I’d love to keep expanding her vocabulary, and find new ways to play with her. So far, the one I’ve been teaching her is spin left and spin right. Are there any you would recommend?
    My mom also like to work with my girl after stuffing her kongs with any food left over. Since my mom is new to training dogs, and my girl has a tendency to jump up on her, I’d like things that are pretty simple, but fun for both of them.
    Thank-you so much!

  • Jason Rogers

    Gabriella, thank you so much! Makes perfect sense.

  • Jason Rogers

    Great article! You mention that you start new behaviors with a clicker then go to a voice command as the marker. Can you give me an example of that? It seems like this method is twice the work since you’re basically duplicating each new behavior. I think I must not be understanding this. Thanks.

    • Hi Jason,

      Thanks for your questions. It’s a good one!

      So you’re not duplicating the behavior since your dog will already have learned the behavior during the clicker training step. All you’re basically doing is replacing the click with a marker word. And since the behavior has already been taught, it won’t take much for your dog to connect the word marker as the message that you’re happy with the behavior.

      For example, you can use a clicker to initially teach the sit command. And then later add a duration command like ‘good’ which with practice your dog will understand to mean, ‘hey, he’s happy with what I’m doing so I’m going to stay right here’. And then a release command like yes, which gives your dog the signal to release from the behavior.

      The reason myself and other folks do this is because a clicker is not always handy. and if you’re working at longer distances your voice carries much further than the sound of a clicker would.

      But it’s totally up to you which way you want to go with this. I know a bunch of folks who only use a clicker and are very happy with the way it works for them.

      Since you’re getting your new pup in a couple of months, I recommend starting with the clicker and see where it goes from there. The beauty about dog training is it’s not ridged or set in stone. It all rides on the back of how you and your pooch like to communicate.

      Hope this helps! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Jason Rogers

      Thank you so much Gabriella. It’s all starting to become a little more clear. I think all the new terminology (cues, markers, lures, shaping, capturing) was overwhelming me. Let me try and explain this and see if it makes sense using the “Sit” command. First you decide on how the command is taught, whether it’s using capturing, luring, etc. When the dog does it, you click and reward. Keep rinsing and repeating. To add in verbal cues, you say the word “Sit” as the dog begins to perform the command and then immediately click and reward. Rinse and repeat.

      So, I think my confusion was how to remove the clicker from the equation and rely solely on the verbal cue. If I’m understanding correctly, a verbal marker is basically replacing the clicker. So, using the above example, you would verbally cue the command and once the dog responds correctly, you verbally mark with something like “yes” while simultaneously rewarding so the dog knows he did a good job. Then with more practice you introduce a release cue like “done” to release the dog from that command.

      Hopefully I’m saying all of this the right way.

      How important is it to always have treats when a command is given once it’s mastered?

      Thanks so much, I really appreciate your time.

    • Hi Jason,

      You totally have step one down!

      So for the second part where you replace the clicker with a verbal marker you’ll need to ‘charge’ your verbal marker before hand, just like you charge the clicker.

      So here are my markers:

        Good: I double this up as a duration marker and also to mark a behavior in place of the clicker.
        Nice: You can opt to use this as a marker to specifically replace the clicker if you want to.
        Yes: I use this to mark a behavior and then release my dog from a behavior.
        Nope: I use this to indicate the behavior offered is incorrect. Here I withhold the reward and don’t ask for the behavior again. I allow my dogs to problem solve and offer behaviors until the hit the right one. Then I’ll mark with either ‘good’ for duration or ‘yes’ for marking and releasing.
        I also like using a marker to indicate the start of training (‘What do you have?’) and the end of training (‘All Done!’) But these are really optional.

      So for charging these I use these steps:

      For ‘Good’ I mark in place. So I move to my dog while they are in the behavior. This sends the message that ‘Good’ means stay right here and keep doing what I’m doing. As you progress with training you can increase duration by waiting longer and longer to mark and reward. You can also use this to add distance.

      To charge you simply have a bunch of treats and rinse and repeat: ‘Good’/Reward. ‘Good’/Reward. After 10 of these or so, proof it by waiting for your dog to be distracted and then say your marker ie: Good. If your dog looks at you. The mark has been charged. You can follow these steps for ‘Yes’ and ‘Nice’.

      For ‘Yes’ I move and mark. So if my dog is in a sit, I’ll move to the side and mark. Make sure you move first and then mark. The movement makes your dog move too. And so they learn the release cue. Try to make your movement exciting and dynamic if your dog is reluctant to move.

      ‘Nope’ is something that’ll be charged as and when it occurs. But you don’t need to actively charge because if you don’t offer a mark and reward your dog will always try to offer other behaviors. As a side note, this is where a big difference can be seen between positive reinforcement and other more negative training methods. Positive reinforcement supports problem solving. Dogs are more inclined to want to figure out what you want when positive training is used.

      The start and ending markers will automatically be charged, so no need to actively do it.

      Keep in mind to always mark first and then reward. Try not to mark and offer a reward at the same time. Just a split second between the marker cue and the actual offering of the reward.

      In terms of treats after the behavior is mastered, you won’t need any. It is imperative that you phase treats out. If you don’t you’ll end up with a dog that won’t offer any behaviors unless you have treats handy. And they’re pretty good at figuring this out. So as soon as the behavior is mastered the treats should not be used.

      I highly recommend reading this article on how dogs learn. there you’ll find information on the psychology behind training, how to use treats, how to phase them out using schedules and also how to get your dog to show you which treats they find the most valuable. High value treats are sometimes necessary but not always.

      This was a long reply, and I think I’ve covered everything. If not, just drop your questions in the comments.


  • Linda

    My GSD is 10 months old. I rescued him from a high kill shelter. Everyone told me I’m crazy because he had a terrible background and he’s a little wild!

    So I did some research and came across your article. I’m so glad I did because I think this is the way I’m going to help him recover and become the beautiful dog he’s meant to be.

    Thanks so much for showing how easy it is to start clicker training. Chaos and I are so grateful.

    P.S. Your dog is gorgeous!


    • Hi Linda,

      That’s great news! It’s so good to hear that you’ve invited Chaos into your life despite his bad past and other people’s doubts.

      Chaos is very lucky to have you because you’ve found the best way to help turn his life around. Clicker training is a fantastic way to help rescue dogs blossom – I know because Charley and Lexi were both rescues.

      All the best and let me know if there is anything you’re struggling with.


  • I have a GSD/Husky that is 8 months old and I have been looking for information and advice on how and what to train him. In most of the internet resources everyone, it seems, is using a clicker. Personally, I wasn’t taking to the idea -but- I want to train my dog. A Karen Pryor article caught my attention for the clickers. I purchased one and then realized that I didn’t know the techniques for using it. Again, in my searches I found this WebPage. I truly believe that everything on your site applies to my puppy also. Wish that I had found it earlier in his life. Thanks for the info and I hope to converse with you later.

    • Hi Chuck!

      You’ve just made my day with your comment! I’m pleased you’ve found useful information here ๐Ÿ™‚

      I checked out your website about Dakotah – he’s a beaut! “Gerberian Shepsky” – very interesting!

      Marker training is fantastic! And a marker can be a clicker or your voice. You’ll see in this article I mentioned that I started using a clicker but have since moved to using verbal markers. However, I still use a clicker to teach small sections of a behavior. Once they have that down I chain them together and mark with verbal markers.

      If you’re staring out, using a clicker is a great way to get your timing down to a “T”.

      I’ll be releasing the exact way I train my dogs with verbal markers for engagement and dialogue. If you want to be notified when it’s available consider signing up for “Dog Speak” here:

      Let me know if your have any questions, I’m happy to help.

      Happy Training!

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